Freehold’s Measure for Measure was a great adaptation of Shakespeare’s original. There is a beautiful set and choreography (Jessica Jabaris as Movement director) and an emotional performance by Ayo Tushinde, who plays Isabella as she tries to save her brother from dying under the hypocrisy of a new authority figure in Vienna.
The set for Measure for Measure (scenic design by Parmida Ziaei) is beautifully layered, which gives the stage a multi-dimensional effect. This accompanies the choreography during the scene transitions spectacularly. Traditionally, dancing and music happens in Shakespeare’s plays at the beginning and end. I was elated to see this utilized in-between scenes instead of the usual cut-to-black transition most plays have. Furthermore, having live music performed by Valerie Holt and Anne Mathews during these choreographies was such a treat.
Speaking of the non-conventional ways Freehold adapts Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, I enjoyed their comedic acknowledgement that Juliet is Isabella’s cousin. This is performed by Ayo Tushinde, who plays Isabella, and James Shilling, who plays Lucio. Isabella lets slip that Juliet is her cousin, which means Claudio impregnated his cousin. Lucio expresses surprise at this and Isabella quickly explains and dismisses it. A lot of Shakespeare plays have some type of pseudo-incest relationship going on, and it’s honestly best not to think about it. I also enjoyed the new character that is introduced, The Watcher, who is played by Truxton Ivory. At the beginning and throughout the play, he appears and hides pink petals for the characters to find. This is an interesting easter egg for audience members to discuss. Perhaps it symbolizes justice or a turning point for the characters.
I could go on and on about the performance as Shawn Belyea, who plays Duke Vincentio and the lovable Friar Lodowick. My favorite moment of seeing Measure for Measure was when Lola Fukushima, while playing the Provost, accidentally said, “Father – Friar” and without missing a beat, Belyea as the Friar addresses the Provost as “Father Brother.” Furthermore, While the Duke is disguised as the Friar, Belyea gives the audience some hints that they are the same character, not just the same actor. Belyea does this by moving the Friar’s cloak to reveal the Duke’s pants, and moving the Friar’s hood to reveal the Duke’s earring (costume design by Doris Black).
Ayo Tushinde must be commended for their emotional performance as Isabella. In Measure for Measure, Isabella is consistently put under stress due to her complicated circumstances. She is a nun who learns her brother, Claudio will die and the only way she can save him is by losing her virginity to Angelo, the interim Duke. Ayo Tushinde’s performance was especially outstanding when Isabella learns that Claudio was executed despite their cunning trick on Angelo. Tushinde falls and throws their rosary beads on the ground. The audience gets a sense that Isabella feels that God has failed her because the justice system had failed her.
For those who have never read or seen Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure (like me) and are concerned about whether they’ll understand the Shakespearean English being spoken, I’m here to assuage your fears. I have an intermediate knowledge of Shakespeare (I’ve read a few plays) and I was able to understand Freehold’s Measure for Measure easily. I also couldn’t help but notice that during intermission for the October 26th showing, some audience members were asking a production member about the plot. This was really wholesome to see! The production member gave a great explanation and it’s refreshing to see people talk about the play they’re seeing, especially when it’s as abstruse as Shakespeare can be.
It’s amazing that Freehold’s Engaged Theatre performed Measure for Measure for incarcerated individuals because it is a play about justice where there is a faulty justice system that is replaced by a promising one, led by someone who had to fight for their own justice. As a Shakespeare fan, I loved Freehold’s Measure for Measure. If you think you would enjoy a story about equity with live music and dancing, you’ll probably love it too.