What measure do the Taffety Punk troops take of Shakespeare in their latest Riot-Grrrl reading of the Bard? A ragged one, at least around the edges. Though it’s worth noting that Lise Bruneau’s all-female take on the lust-and-cautionary tale of Measure for Measure does feature an admirably intense Kimberly Gilbert as the stern Angelo, left in charge of seedy Vienna by a lax duke who’s been content to let the inmates run the asylum for nearly 20 years. (“Liberty plucks justice by the nose,” mourns the boss man in the early going—“the baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart goes all decorum.” And how: Suzanne Richard plays a hooker, Kate Debelack a barkeep who doubles as a bawd, and let’s not even talk about Toni Rae Brotons’ oily Lucio, a potty-mouthed playa of the first order.) Which is why Duke Vincentio secretly hopes his stand-in—a notorious tightass, though Shakespeare puts it more prettily—will play bad cop while he’s on vacation.
You’re thinking the Duke is maybe not so nice? Yeah, that’s always a bit of a problem with this characteristically twisty yarn, in which Vincentio turns out to be the good guy, never mind his creepy tendency to let the victims of Angelo’s (predictable) power-madness twist a little too long in their tormenter’s grasp. Michelle Shupe does what she can with the Duke, striding square-jawed and confident through the disguise plots and the double-dealing, but Bruneau hasn’t helped her communicate a particularly clear sense of what’s actually driving Vincentio’s decisions.
Happily there’s Esther Williamson’s appealing Isabella—upon whose virginal form Angelo’s attention falls when her hapless brother runs afoul of the strict new regime. (Guess what the Duke’s errant deputy wants from poor Izzy in exchange for not executing her bro?) And happily there’s Gilbert’s Antonio, freaky and nervous and visibly hating himself as he goes merrily down the road past hypocrisy to hell—he’s never less than a fascinating mess of a character.
What’s missing is a rationale more compelling than the one Taffety Punk’s Marcus Kyd offered up in a curtain speech: that doing the all-girl thing again (Bruneau also staged the outfit’s XXtra-righteous Romeo and Juliet last season) simply offers solid performers a shot at meaty roles that usually go to the guys. That’s cool—and at $10 a ticket, I dunno, maybe it’s sorta enough?