By Greg Hudson
The posters around campus are alluring: two bare shoulders emerging from shadows, they seem to promise something dark, illicit and apparently Shakespearean.
From Feb. 6 to Feb. 15, Measure for Measure runs at the Ryerson Theatre. The graduating class of the four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts program hopes the advertisements will bring students out to see their staging of the Bard’s sexy comedy.
But with about 20 people in the class, and not enough roles to go around, director Michael Waller had to be creative: he double-cast his actors.
But, whereas most of the roles that are double-cast are played by different actors on a nightly basis, the lead role of Isabella is played by two women on the same night, every night.
“It is such a big part, and it’s actually pretty evenly split between the two acts. It was easier to do it this way,” says Nola Martin, who acts as Isabella for the first half of the play.
Shannon Taylor, the post-intermission Isabella, agrees, explaining that if the whole part were shared, she’d only get to be Isabella six times instead of the full run of 12 shows.
“I would much rather have it the way Michael (the director) has split it up. It gives two people the opportunity to play a fantastic role.” I believe the heart and soul of who Isabella is lies in both of our interpretations,” says Taylor.
The chance to play around with casting is one of the reasons why Waller wanted to direct Measure for Measure at Ryerson. But such a casting decision is only possible because of the spontaneous nature of the play.
“It goes in weird, weird places. The first half of the play you think it is going to be a massive tragedy, like King Lear, then it just gets wacky. It’s a really interesting play that way, because it goes everywhere,” says Waller.
Measure for Measure follows Isabella, a virtuous nun-in-training who is forced to make a morally cataclysmic decision between her chastity and her brother, who will be executed if she doesn’t sleep with Angelo.
To add to the confusion, the Duke, who put Angelo in charge during his assumed absence, is watching all the shenanigans while disguised as a friar. Adding his own twist, Waller sets the piece “vaguely in the future, in a society that has fallen apart.” But he clarifies that the adaptation isn’t what is important when doing Shakespeare.
“I think Shakespeare stands on his own; I don’t think it matters whether you put people in puffy Shakespeare pants or silver spacesuits. The reason why Shakespeare is great is because the themes are universal,” he says. “He writes about very basic, real human emotions. I think it’s a mistake as a director to make yourself more important than Shakespeare.”