From left, Connor Foster as Claudio, Joseph McGrath as Duke Vincentio and Marissa Garcia as Isabella.
Marissa Garcia gives the performance of her life in the Rogue Theatre production of Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure, a play of moral ambiguities and blurred ideals – where standing for something can create a lot of problems for others.
Garcia as innocent Isabella, in the white robes of a novice nun dedicated to Christ, is the only pure spirit in the Viennese court of Duke Vincentio (Joseph McGrath).
The play is set in the early 1600s (with elaborate costumes to match) performed on a bare black stage built with six step-like levels, a towering trio of arches defining the space behind them. People have barely begun to move about when the Duke, venturing onside his palace, realizes that under his lax reign debauchery has become rampant in the city.
But lacking the temperament to close the brothels and enforce harsh laws prohibiting sex outside of marriage, the Duke appoints aggressively upstanding Angelo (Matt Bowden), dressed completely in black, to take the Duke's place while he takes a long trip. Only the Duke doesn't leave, he hangs around disguised as a monk to see what happens under Angelo's faux-reign.
With the eagerness of a Tea Party patriot, or maybe a fundamentalist Muslim, Angelo condemns Claudio (Connor Foster) to death for getting his fiancée Juliet (Kayla Bernays) pregnant. Claudio, wouldn't you know, is the brother of Isabella.
Juliet is an equally nice person, just maybe anticipating the joys of marriage a little prematurely. Isabella the pure one is helplessly distraught. She will do anything to save her brother. Shakespeare makes sure she has that opportunity.
The comedic moments, so essential to every Shakespeare production, are generously spread among several secondary characters here. Primary among them is Lucio (the amazingly versatile Lee Rayment), Pompey (Ryan Parker Knox) servant to the delightfully named Mistress Overdone (Cynthia Meier) who runs a brothel and is also delightfully costumed.
David Morden directs with a sure hand and keeps things moving along as the demands of morality clash with the emotional desires of human nature. The timelessness of conflicts Shakespeare has dreamed up continue to prove his genius. Today's rudderless society filled with its willingness to compromise any issue for financial gain clearly parallels Vienna of that time.
Garcia makes her Isabella quite sympathetic to the ruthless machinations of Angelo, who just can't resist a helpless novice in white. But she's also possessed of steely fortitude when the Duke in disguise needs her participation in a plot to disarm Angelo.
The blurry morality, the comedy and the cleverness of people doing the right things for maybe the wrong reason have always made "Measure For Measure" a tart comedy rather than a silly one.
Rogue Theatre has responded with a measured production that keeps these competing forces in balance.
"Measure For Measure" continues through Nov. 24 with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays (plus a 2 p.m. matinee Saturday, Nov. 23), at the Rogue Theatre in the Historic Y, 300 E. University Blvd. All tickets are $32; student rush (with ID) tickets are $15, on sale 15 minutes before curtain when available.
For details and reservations, 520-551-2053, or visit www.theroguetheatre.org