The Northern Illinois University School of Theatre and Dance upcoming Studio Series play, “Measure for Measure,” by William Shakespeare, is a dark comedy written by the most important playwright of the English Renaissance, according to its director, Alex Gelman.
“It’s one of the greatest,” Gelman says, “written by one of the greatest ever.”
Opening Thursday, Nov. 5, “Measure for Measure” has been described by literary scholars as a problem play, because the tone of the play can instantly shift between intense psychological drama and straight-forward comedy.
“The play is so rich and leads to all kinds of interpretations,” Gelman says.
The story begins when a Duke of Vienna becomes fed up with the sins of his subjects. Needing a break from his position of authority, he turns over the reins of power to his younger, more idealistic and puritanical deputy and suddenly leaves the city. He then disguises himself as a friar and secretly returns to observe the results.
“Every time you do a great classical play, you have to find a reason why it matters today,” Gelman says. “Although (‘Measure for Measure’) is about justice and morality, it gets deeper – not smarter – but deeper inside of us and presents challenges we still face in modern times.”
Beyond finding meaning in a modern context, Gelman says every script has its unique challenges, perhaps especially one by Shakespeare.
“Heightened text always tests particular technical skills,” he says. “The flowery language, the imagery and metered text challenges an actor’s ability to allow thought to occur in the mouth.”
However, the most unique aspect of this classic play’s production is how the play will be staged, with a very modern look. Seating will be arranged nightclub-style, and the actors will perform throughout the house as well as on the stage.
A pre-show completes the night club atmosphere, with some of the actors singing from the stage as theater patrons enter and find their seats. One of Gelman’s pleasant surprises in producing the show was hearing some of the voices for the first time. “There is some great, smokey singing up there,” he says.
“Measure for Measure” runs from Thursday, Nov. 5, through Sunday, Nov. 8, and is performed in the Holmes Student Center Diversions Lounge, located in the center of the NIU DeKalb campus. Curtain times are 7:30 p.m. weekdays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All non-package general admission tickets are $7.