In a way, the Bard set the stage for – oh lord, shut me up – reality TV when he concocted tales of sex, power and morality in complex tragicomedies as “Measure for Measure.” However, in the end, a sanctimonious hypocrite gets a totally to the max comeuppance, which is not always the way reality TV closes the show. Or, for that matter, the daily news.

The earliest authoritative text available for “Measure for Measure” was published in the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s plays dated 1623. Today, most historians accept this version of the play as a transcription of Shakespeare’s “foul papers,” that is, an uncorrected manuscript written in the playwright’s own hand.

Like its themes of justice and mercy, “Measure for Measure” is anything but a straightforward read. The play has, in fact, fascinated and perplexed audiences and critics alike for centuries. Critical assessments have ranged from profound disappointment in the play’s lack of consistency to assertions that “Measure for Measure” ranks as one of Shakespeare’s greatest achievements.

Will it be one of Telluride Theatre‘s greatest achievements to date? Judge for yourself when “Measure for Measure” opens Saturday, July 21, 8 p.m., on the Main Stage in Town Park, this year’s pick for traditional Shakespeare in the Park adventures.

Performances run through the week into the following weekend: Sunday, July 22 ( 1 p.m. matinee plus the evening show), Monday, July 23, Wednesday, July 25, Thursday, July 26, Friday, July 27, with the closing show on July 28. There is a special party for patrons on Thursday, July 26, including a wine, beer and cocktail reception at 7 p.m.

Scholars have in fact disagreed on virtually every aspect of “Measure for Measure,” including its central themes and artistic unity as well as its style, genre, and characterization. Principal topics of debate include the characterizations of the Duke, Isabella, and Angelo. Scholars are divided over whether the Duke is manipulative or wise. Is Isabella is rigidly moralistic or saintly and compassionate? And does her muteness indicate acceptance or rejection of the Duke’s marriage proposal. (And directors often wonder how her silence should be staged.) Is Angelo split into two separate personalities, one respectable and the other villainous?

“Measure for Measure” raises other more far-reaching and compelling questions that it never quite answers. To what extend should mercy temper justice? What of gender roles and human sexuality? The nature of power? The need for self-knowledge? If Angelo remains intractable, if Isabella is silent when the Duke makes his offer, if the Duke uses subterfuge to accomplish his ends, and if Mariana is married to someone who does not want her, is “Measure for Measure” a tragedy or comedy? Or simply the tangle known as life?

The plot is as follows:

Depravity and sexual license have become an issue in Vienna and the Duke Vincentio, who has decided to take a break from ruling, appoints Angelo to rule in his absence, assisted by a trusted councillor, Escalus. The first thing Angelo does is pronounce that he is going to enforce the immorality laws to try and stamp out the epidemic of ‘loose’ living.. Resorting to an old law against sex to enforce his strict standards of morality, the strict Angelo proceeds to condemn fornicators to death. One of the condemned is Claudio, a young man who has had pre-marital sex with his fiancée. Claudio’s sister Isabella pleads for her brother’s life. Angelo’s lust is aroused and he uses his power to blackmail Isabella into his bed. Fortunately the Duke overhears. Angelo ends up in the bed of Mariana, a woman from his undisclosed past. Claudio is allowed to live happily ever after with his fiancée, and the virtuous Isabella ends up the Duke of Vienna’s bride.

Telluride Theatre’s “Measure for Measure” is directed by Jeb Berrier. Set designs are by Buff Hooper; costumes by Melissa Sumptner (who got married on the Fourth of July – Did you see the float?); lighting design by Mark Froelich. Deb Gesmundo is stage manager.

The cast is as follows:

The Duke, Vincentio(also appears disguised as Friar Lodowick), Eliot Muckerman
Isabella, Charlotte Delpit
Claudio, Keith Hill
Angelo, Buff Hooper
Escalus, Peter Chadman
Lucio, Layna Fisher
Mariana, Marissa Matyss
Mistress Overdone, Dahlia Mertens
Friar Thomas, Susan Rahman
Pompey, Ashley Boling
The Provost (runs the prison, and is responsible for carrying out all of Angelo’s orders), Mike Harold
Elbow (a simple constable), Jonas Fahnstock
Froth (a gentleman of fourscore pound a year), Luke Marshall
Barnardine (a prisoner), Ellen Metricke
Juliet (Claudio’s lover/unofficial bride, pregnant with his child), Chambri Schwartz
Justice (a friend of Escalus), Susan Rahman
Varrius (a friend of The Duke), Linda Levin
Francisca (a nun), Linda Levin
Abhorson (an executioner),  Simon Perkovich
Friar Peter (another friar), Peter Lundeen
Two gentlemen, Simon Perkovich and Zach Davis
‘Boy,’ Mariposa Metricke

Tickets, $12 and $50 for patron, available at or by calling 970.369.5675.

For further insights and information, click the “play” button and listen to what Jeb has to add.

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