Measure for Measure @ La Plaza Cultural, New York

cast list
Teddy Alvaro, Celeste Arias, Stevo Arnoczy, Seth Andrew Bridges, Sonya Cooke, Richard Douglass, Bill Griffin, Erik Gullberg, Tommy Heleringer, Cale Krise, Danielle Levanas, Brandon Uranowitz, Ariana Venturi

directed by
Stephen Stout
What could be better than watching Shakespeare under the stars?

Continuing on the exciting path blazed by its most recently closed production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the New York Neo-Classical Ensemble’s free outdoor production of Measure for Measure at La Plaza Cultural in Alphabet City answers that question, thankfully, with a well-earned, “Nothing.”

Playing one of the Bard’s most fascinating “problem plays” with simple costumes and minimal, mostly ramshackle sets, the eager young company once again proves its mettle for Shakespearean silliness, dramatic precision, and pure entertainment value.

The acting is appropriately over-the-top. After all, it’s got to transmit despite the background noise of honking cabs. But the actors are consistently nuanced in their portrayals of the confused citizens of Vienna, who are left to barter with, beg from, and belittle one another without the guidance of their Duke. As in that previous outing, what the company lacks in age and experience it makes up for in vibrancy and vigor.

Brandon Uranowitz is an appropriately manic Duke Vincentio, making the transition from Duke to stand-in friar with ease. Richard Douglass is a brash and ardent Antonio, matched by a capable Isabella in Ariana Venturi, whose pleas to save brother Claudio (Tommy Heleringer) fall seemingly on deaf ears. Bill Griffin, whose Malvolio was a highlight in Twelfth Night, returns here as a gangly, comic Elbow.

In the hands of a company like the New York Neo-Classical Ensemble, an audience needn’t fear; they’re in capable hands. Though there aren’t any bells and whistles to the production, the joy is in the clear and impassioned presentation of Shakespeare’s text, purely and simply. Yes, they take a few hip liberties in their portrayals of certain characters (Mariana’s pretty emo), but the play, one of Shakespeare’s clearest, remains intact.

In this current production, I missed the amped-up musical elements of Twelfth Night (though there’s still a funny music video moment here), but this isn’t to the detriment of the production as a whole. I enjoyed Measure for Measure as much as, if not even more so, than Twelfth Night. It’s certainly a fun way to spend a free and classy night outdoors.

I look forward to seeing what the New York Neo-Classical Theatre tackles next. Having focused solely on Shakespeare to date, my hope is that they’ll tackle the works of other writers as well. What about productions of Racine or Moliere? Or the Greeks? With plenty of talent and bang for their buck, the company is surely on its way in new and interesting directions; the possibilities are limitless.

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