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Measure For Pleasure
And don't be fooled by the title. This is not a new version of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, though there is a soupçon of the Bard in the frequent asides to the audience and the sex cave visited towards the end might strike some as a raunchy version of some Bardian lost in the forest scene. Measure for Pleasure is more than anything a no holds barred Upstairs/Downstairs restoration romp -- complete with rhymed dialogue and characters with names that are pungent puns on their dominant traits. Grimm' turns the euphemistic style of Restoration master like Congreve and Wycherly topsy turvy. He stuffs his dialoge with sexual double entendres and pumps them up with lots of explicit visual jokes.
Oh, and did I mention that in this playwright's brand of restoration comedy the love that dare not speak its name, does so in no uncertain terms? In fact, the one same sex couple among those stumbling and fumbling their way to the inevitable happy ending consists of Will Blunt (Michael Stuhlbarg) and Molly Tawdry (Euan Morton) who are the Downstairs couple and the show's stars.
Stuhlbarg, who gave an amazing performance in Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman, proves himself to be a fine, relaxed comic actor. Morton, even without singing, is fun to watch. Both are well supported by the story's Upstairs contingent -- Lady Vanity Lustforth (a straight out of Moliere Suzanne Bertish), her skirt chasing Lord (Wayne Knight, the mailman from Seinfeld), and the younger lovers -- Captain Dick Dashwood (Saxon Palmer) and Hermione Goode (Emily Swallow) and Hermione's gorgon of a guardian Dame Stickle (Susan Blomaert). Both Lord Lustforth and Captain Dashwood are members of a secret sex society.
The farce, is often quite funny and has an abundance of deceptions and disguises to delay pairing everyone who will eventually be paired: Molly gets a job as Lady Lustforth's maid, Blunt fools his masters as a bewigged fop and Dashwood, fakes his own death and assumes the guise of music teacher named Don Fidelio. While director Peter DuBois handles all these complications with a juggler's skill, the excess of double entendres wear thin, as do the visual jokes which at times seem laid on with a trowel. The comedy stoops to a new low when we enter the secret sex society's cavernous haunt where everyone dons gold phalluses and Dame Stickle loses her puritan virtue.
Anita Yavich's lush and witty costumes and Alexander Dodge's design, especially the fabulous friezes for the sex cave, warrant a foot stamping round of applause. But even those who will relish all these licentious goings on are likely to agree that at two and a half hours, plus intermission, it's too much of a good thing. What ultimately gives pleasure without measure are the performances.
To read our review of Grimm's Kit Marlowe, go here.
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