When Goodman Theatre artistic director Robert Falls began the process directing a new incarnation of the rarely-produced William Shakespeare black comedy work "Measure for Measure," he opted for an eye-popping retro-contemporary setting.
This production marks Falls' first return to Shakespeare's work since his acclaimed 2006 revival of "King Lear" starring Stacy Keach.
Playing now until April 14 at Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Falls has his "Measure for Measure" set in the trashy time of 1970s New York City.
Actor James Newcomb is wisely cast as The Duke of Vienna, who says he is leaving on travels, but dons the garb of a priest to make his way among the people to witness the actions and consequences of those around him.
He tells his trusted adviser Escalus, played by John Judd, that Lord Angelo, as embodied by the formidable Jay Whittaker, is to be in charge during his absence.
Actress Alejandra Escalante plays a beautiful and delicate Isabella, a young nun who is forced to confront the now power-driven Lord Angelo after he sentences her brother to death.
Despite her vows, the nun finds herself faced with the ruler's licentious offer to submit to his advances in exchange for her brother Claudio's release. With the help of the in-disguise Duke, plans and as-expected confusion unfold with an engaging pace before a finale sets the record straight.
Added to the mix in the cast of 25 are the foppish Lucio, the always talented and entertaining Jeffrey Carlson and solid pro Joe Foust stepping into a few roles, including everything from a church cardinal to a violent prisoner along with favorite A.C. Smith as the prison Provost.
Falls, who's been Goodman's artistic director since 1986, uses plenty of background debauchery to set the tone for his scene setting spin. Dashes of nudity and implied sexual situations are shown happening in the brothels and backrooms of what was once the seedy New York City of the 1970s.
The set depicting the decaying Big Apple (shown at it's most rotten reality from decades ago) cityscape, as created by Walt Spangler, is impressive and interesting. However, it's the over-the-top side depictions and staging moments, along with the 1970s music overlay which can be, at the very least, distracting, from what is already a very action-heavy storyline.
This is the work of William Shakespeare as you've never seen it before, both odd and entertaining.
Playing Goodman's 856-seat Albert Theatre, tickets are $25 to $86 at (312) 443-3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn) or goodmantheatre.org.