ashland.news
July 23, 2024

Review: Desperate for Shakespeare? Here’s a full measure

Alissa Barry as Bella Rose, "saloon gal gone good," and Joey Larimer as Johnny Blood in "Desperate Measures" at the Collaborative Theatre Project. Wes Nieto photo
June 27, 2023

Collaborative Theatre Project of Medford stages entertaining musical

By Geoff Ridden for Ashland.news

Feeling deprived of Shakespeare in Ashland this summer? After all, there are only two Shakespeare productions at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. You might feel you’ve already seen “Romeo and Juliet” and “Twelfth Night” enough times.

In which case, why not try “Desperate Measures” at the Collaborative Theatre Project in Medford? This musical, loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and directed by Todd Nielsen with musical direction by Laurie Anne Hunter, features a cast of only six in a much-simplified adaptation.

Each play has a condemned man, each man has a sister preparing for holy orders, and each has an authority figure who might pardon the condemned man — if only the sister will sleep with him. “Desperate Measures” removes the ambiguity of the original’s ending (I promise there’ll be no more plot spoilers!) and makes for an altogether more fun and entertaining few hours. Am I saying I preferred this to the original? In some respects, I did!

Joey Larimer as Johnny Blood and Alissa Barry as Bella Rose in “Desperate Measures,” loosely based on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” at the Collaborative Theatre Project. Wes Nieto photo

Set in the Arizona Territory of the 1880s, the show, with dialogue in rhyming couplets, played successfully in New York in 2017. This current production deserves to be equally well-received — the audience at the performance I saw certainly loved it. Writers David Friedman and Peter Kellogg have every reason to be delighted that their work is so well-handled: All aspects of this entertaining piece work together in total harmony.

This is a cast which can sing as well as act, featuring some great voices as well as fine comic timing. The set makes good use of the width of the CTP stage and allows for scene changes to happen seamlessly. The lighting and sound design are excellent, and the balance between the singers and the musicians (Hunter on keyboards and Gillian Frederick on violin) is consistently outstanding, achieved with no visible microphones.

A member of the audience wondered, “Why is this called a ‘problem play?’” The answer is that the label applies to the Shakespearean original, in which morally dubious actions are taken, but not to this adaptation. There is, for example, a sound reason in this version for the Governor, as the person in charge, to feel the need to exercise strict control of the law: This is a territory looking to become a state, and rules must be obeyed if that ambition is to be achieved. On the other hand, the dialogue is often very funny (and the rhymes scarcely noticeable): When the Governor asks the woman he desires for a night of passion, she thinks he wants her to cook for him.

The deets
“Desperate Measures” plays at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday nights and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoons through July 16 at the Collaborative Theatre Project, 555 Medford Center, Medford. For tickets ($28-35), go to CTPMedford.org or call
(541) 779-1055.

In a cast which has no weak links, I want to highlight William Coyne’s delightful drunken priest who confuses the liturgy for weddings and funerals, and who has leanings toward Nietzsche. Russell Lloyd is another standout as the Governor: It scarcely seemed possible that this wonderful comic performance came from the same actor who played Macbeth on the very same stage just months ago.

It is a reminder of the pleasure an audience can get from watching members of a repertory company playing different roles, and that applies equally to the multitalented Jessi Shieman (who was also in “Macbeth”) as the condemned man’s sister, Sister Mary Jo.

Joey Larimer, as the condemned man Johnny Blood, has grown in confidence and in vocal prowess since his first role at CTP in 2016. Chris Hamby, as the Sheriff, was last at CTP in “Lend Me a Tenor,” still one of my favorite afternoons at that theater, while Alissa Barry, as Bella Rose, is making her debut appearance — surely the first of what will be many.

Another Shakespearean-related treat we can look forward to: “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” originally scheduled for the 2020 OSF season before COVID-19 closed the theaters, will open at CTP on Aug. 17.

Geoff Ridden has been based in Ashland for the last 15 years, having taught in universities in West Africa, Europe and the U.S. In retirement he has written reviews of books and plays for a number of publications, as well as giving talks in OSF’s Carpenter Noon series. He sings with the choir of the Jefferson Baroque Orchestra, of which he is also a board member. He can be reached at geoff.ridden@gmail.com.

June 28 update: Story corrected to say performances start at 7:30 p.m., not 8, and end July 16, not 18.

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