Saturday, March 1, 2014

It's a Fiasco! In a good way!

Paul L. Coffey (Angelo) and Emily Young (Isabella)
in Fiasco Theater's Measure for Measure
(photo by Joan Marcus)
Legend has it the word “fiasco” was first used to describe commedia dell’arte performances that went horribly (and hilariously) wrong. In those instances the performer would have to fare fiasco or “make a bottle.” In other words “You’re buying!” While we hope to avoid on-stage disasters, we do believe that it is only when artists are brave enough to risk a fiasco that the possibility exists of creating something special. 
-- from Fiasco Theater Web site
Gotta love it.

Anyway, the fiasco going on at New Victory Theater, as of last evening's opening of Measure for Measure, is not the work of the delightful Fiasco Theater, but the fix that Shakespeare's comic characters have gotten themselves into.

The laidback Duke of Vienna (Andy Grotelueschen) suddenly decides to take a powder--or so it seems--and dump all governing responsibility onto his deputy. He grabs a valise and scrams. The deputy, Angelo (Paul L. Coffey), turns out to be a vindictive law-and-order type, upsetting people's lifestyles and livelihoods and even chance of continuing to live at all. Fiasco!

Funnily enough, the errant duke actually remains right there in the city and in the thick of things, disguised as a friar, closely monitoring developments and, in the nick of time as only Shakespeare could nick it, setting things aright.

Before we get to the Happily Ever After with an Big Ol' Asterisk, Fiasco's performers, singing English Renaissance vocal works as lovely preludes to each act and doubling up characters, take us through twisty complications and disturbances of the social order. As physical actors, they have charming vitality--in particular, Ben Steinfeld (Lucio and Froth), Jessie Austrian (Escalus and Mariana), Noah Brody (Claudio and Pompey) and the terrific Emily Young (Isabella and Mistress Overdone). Unlike his colleagues, Grotelueschen has a tendency to rush through and sink back behind his lines. We know the duke is a man in a hurry, yet this actor need not be. But Grotelueschen pulls off a flawless Act Two scene as the friar conversing with Steinfeld's Lucio. Steinfeld is a hoot throughout the play but never more focused than here as these two guys lock eyes and bring out the best in each other. Electric!

Co-direction: Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld
Set: Derek McLane
Costumes: Whitney Locher
Lighting: Tim Cryan

Fiasco Theater's Measure for Measure runs now through March 16. Get tickets here.

New Victory Theater
209 West 42nd Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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