On January 31, 2019, Tacoma Little Theatre‘s Off the Shelf program presented a workshop performance of Measure for Measure, a drama by William Shakespeare, adapted and directed by OLY ARTS editor emeritus Christian Carvajal and read by a “who’s who” list of South Sound thespians.
The Bard’s poetic language has been preserved in this script, with only a few outdated words swapped for modern synonyms. Shakespeare wrote Measure for Measure around the same time as Othello and King Lear, but only now can it be appreciated as his most trenchant commentary on humanity’s quest for sociopolitical equality. The question mark added to the title of Carvajal’s adaptation signifies his question to the audience: Does its protagonist receive the justice she deserves and demands?
“I’d never seen or read a production of Measure for Measure before 2017,” Carvajal explained, “but I read about a surge of interest in the play as a result of the #MeToo movement and found that intriguing. The moment I read it I understood the connection and resolved there and then to produce a reading of it. It’s often categorized as one of Shakespeare’s ‘problem plays’ because its conclusion is seen as ethically unsatisfying. Duke Vincentio, ostensibly the play’s moral center, wraps up the plot in a way that seems counterproductive to the legitimate goals of its heroine, Isabella. I think the lesson we’ve learned over the last few years is men cannot be counted on to cede power and treat women fairly.”
The first reading of Measure for Measure? featured the talents of Jess Allan, Drew Doyle, Cassie Jo Fastabend, Andrew Fry, Silva Goetz, Andrew Gordon, Joseph Grant, Xander Layden, Gabriel McClelland, Robert McConkey, Kathryn Grace Philbrook, Mason Quinn, Chris Serface, Jed Slaughter, Amanda Stevens and James Wrede.
Tacoma Little Theatre’s managing artistic director, Chris Serface, believes there’s a vast library of high-quality, dramatic writing that deserves to be heard but sometimes doesn’t get an opportunity. “TLT’s ‘Off the Shelf’ program is a wonderful opportunity,” he said, “for pieces that might not fit into a normal season for us. It gives directors an opportunity to play with topics and treatments and work with actors who might not be able to commit to a full run of a show. When Carv brought his idea for Measure for Measure, I knew it would be a great fit.” In addition, the “Off the Shelf” program helps persuade patrons these stories deserve full, mainstage performances at TLT.
After the performance, OLY ARTS‘ publisher invited Carvajal to host his adapted script on OlyArts.org. “It’s free for anyone to use,” Carvajal added, “but please give me an ‘adapted by’ credit and let me know you’re producing it. I might come and watch you perform it.” He is especially interested in seeing the piece as helmed by a female-identifying director. He discusses his adaptation and its status as a problem play further in a blog post on his author website, “Carv’s Thinky Works.”