Lust, corruption & the pursuit of justice in Shakespeare BASH’d sharply funny, timely Measure for Measure

Sochi Fried & Geoffrey Armour. Scenic design by Caitlin Doherty. Photo by Kyle Purcell.

 

Shakespeare BASH’d returns to a Toronto pub to present one of the less produced plays of the canon: Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, directed by Catherine Rainville and opening last night at Junction City Music Hall. Given the current #MeToo climate, with powerful and famous—in some cases, respected and even beloved—men called out and taken to court for sexual harassment and assault, and female accusers disbelieved and finding themselves faced with challenging choices, it couldn’t be more timely.

Duke Vincentio (David Ross) is well aware that local laws regarding moral and sexual conduct have gone by the wayside, with officials turning a blind eye to cases of fornication, adultery and sex work. When he decides to get some distance and perspective on his kingdom and people—in what today, we’d call an undercover boss move—he leaves his deputy Angelo (Geoffrey Armour) in charge, with trusted advisor Escalus (Olivia Croft) acting as his second; the Duke tells no one that he’s actually staying in the city, disguised as a Friar as he conducts his observations.

No sooner has Angelo been granted power than he starts rounding up whores, bawds (Lesley Robertson as Pompey) and fornicators, including young Claudio (Jeff Yung), who with the exception of an official ceremony is essentially married to his pregnant love Juliet (Megan Miles). Juliet’s condition protects her from execution, but Claudio is to be put to death for his crime. Claudio’s friend Lucio (Michael Man) informs Claudio’s sister Isabella (Sochi Fried) of her brother’s fate, urging her to plead with Angelo for mercy. When she does so, Angelo’s response is to extort her chastity in exchange for her brother’s life.

Faced with the terrible choice of seeing her brother put to death or surrendering her virtue, Isabella encounters the disguised Duke, who has some interesting information about Angelo, and hatches a plan with her, the maid Mariana (Melanie Leon) and the Provost (Drew O’Hara) to make things right.

With its signature accessible performance and resonant connection with the audience, Shakespeare BASH’d plays up the comedy in this production, however dark at times, to add a spoonful of sugar to this otherwise serious cautionary tale. Angelo’s heavy-handed adherence to the letter of the law, coupled with his vain and entitled sense of virtue and status, make for an ugly and merciless rule—and, like many men in his situation, he believes his power and position make him immune to scrutiny. Who would believe the accusations of a young female nobody? This is how men like him have gotten away with it. The ending is a question mark, making us wonder even about the ‘good guys.’

The ensemble is a finely tuned storytelling delight. Stand-out performances include Armour’s conflicted but entitled Angelo; a dark and corrupt man who struggles with his own lustful desires, he ultimately believes he’s above the law he’s so cruelly enforcing. As Isabella, Fried brings a sense of quiet contemplation, thoughtful oration and fierce vulnerability; Isabella’s genuine goodness and attempt at true justice stand in sharp contrast to Angelo’s hypocritical mask of virtue. Ross gives the Duke a balanced sense of fairness and firmness; progressive where Angelo is regressive, the Duke realizes that the law is a living thing that must reflect the society it rules. Hilarious, sharp-witted comic turns from Man, as the incorrigible scallywag Lucio; and Robertson, as the delightfully coarse Pompey. And shouts to producers/co-founders Julia Nish-Lapidus and James Wallis for stepping in with outstanding comic timing and panache—and off book!—for actor Cara Pantalone (as Mistress Overdone, Froth and Abhorson), who was off sick with no voice last night. The show must, and does, go on.

Lust, corruption and the pursuit of justice in the face of merciless hypocrisy in Shakespeare BASH’d sharply funny, timely Measure for Measure.

Measure for Measure continues at Junction City Music Hall till May 6; advance tickets available online ($20) or at the door ($25 cash only). The first half of this short run is sold out, and there’s limited availability for Friday-Sunday. Tickets are going fast, so book in advance or arrive extra early to get on the wait list.

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Burn Apollo & guest Perivale rock the house @ packed Junction City Music Hall all-ages event

DSCN1896The Junction City Music Hall was rockin’ a packed house last night with an all-ages event featuring two local young bands: Burn Apollo, with opening guests Perivale.

Perivale brought some high-energy rock infused with hints of pop and blues, as well as some 80s/90s-influenced sounds like U2. If Sting and Chris Tait (from Chalk Circle) had a baby, it would be front man Jacob Bihun (songwriter/vocals/guitar). Solid musicianship from the entire band, which includes Nick Corcoran (lead guitar), David MacLean (bass/engineer) and Jordan Dias (drums). Keep an eye out for their upcoming CD Protagonist and go give them a follow on Twitter.

Punk meets rock with a touch of introspective melancholy in headliner Burn Apollo. Mixing up the set list with some covers from the likes of The Clash and Sum 41, and original tunes, the band got the crowd moving – and even inspired some interpretive slam dancing with songs like “First Date.” I was only able to stay for their first set, but was very impressed by the band’s talent. Headed up by the deep, edgy vocals of Finn Scott (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), rounding out the band are Tyler Twigger (drums), Jackson Seaward (lead guitar), Michael O’Meara (bass/back-up vocals) and Vivien Shepherd (back-up vocals/soloist). From the cheeky, poppy “She Lied to the FBI” and the stray cat strut sounds of “Hitchin’ a Ride” to a poignant acoustic ballad about growing old together, a well-rounded selection of songs brought out all the feels. Burn Apollo brought a blend of stellar musicianship, sweet harmonies and easy-going presence that made you feel like you were hanging out in their basement. You can keep up with Burn Apollo on Twitter and Instagram. Here are some of Perivale and Burn Apollo from the show last night:

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