By Glen Vaughn-Petersen
Avila University is putting on a version of William Shakespeare’s lesser known work Measure for Measure that takes place in a time slightly more familiar to modern theatergoers: the 1980s.
Measure for Measure is a production about how the societal pendulum swings between conservative and liberal values and morals with the change of power in a certain time.
The play begins with the Duke of Vienna stepping away so that he could watch what happens when his deputy, Angelo, takes power and is in charge of enforcing the immorality laws of Vienna. In time, of course, Angelo discovers he is not above the sway of power and desire as the scales of justice are tipped.
“For me, one of the reasons Shakespeare is so potent is because he writes about timeless issues,” says Matt Schwader Harbor, assistant professor of theatre and director of performance studies at Avila. “Everything in this play is just as relevant today as ever, with the desire of one political party wanting to regulate morality and another political party wanting to regulate in a different direction.”
Regulating morality is especially relevant during the show’s setting in the 1980s; in particular, Reagan’s 1980s.
“I was thinking, ‘what bridges the gap between today and 1600?’” says Schwader Harbor. “One thing that stood out to me was the backlash of the 1980s, the sort of social-political movement against the more liberal, progressive actions of the 1970s.”
Schwader Harbor compares the 1600s Vienna we see to New York under Rudy Giuliani in the 1980s: a dangerous place filled with drugs, prostitution, and much more that many would consider immoral and in need of policing.
A connection he brings up actually resides in a unique place: the punk subculture. “Punk culture in the 80s was also a part of the backlash against the conservative movement,” says Schwader Harbor. “That gives us a lot of opportunity with the characters in this play between the folks who are controlling the world from a government perspective, and the folks that are just trying to survive in the world.”
Measure for Measure is especially unique because it is considered to be one of a few of Shakespeare’s “problem plays”. These plays are called such because they do not easily fit within the categories of tragedy or comedy. In fact, the tonal ambiguity of these plays is also often supplemented by the fact that, much like Measure for Measure itself, they often tend to face some sort of contemporary social problem.
Avila University’s production of Measure for Measure will run February 23rd through the 26th in the Frantze Family Black Box Studio. For ticketing and more information, visit Avila’s performing arts website www.avila.edu/avila-life/performing-arts/theatre/.