Measure for Measure was a perfect fit for this particular group of students--15 of them, representing seven different countries of origin--and that's no coincidence. "One of the things that I like to do when I look at a group [of students] is, I don't choose a play until I've met them and worked with them for a bit," says Shepphard, a freelance playwright and director with a regular autumn gig teaching acting at RADA. "This is a very interesting play: it has questions of politics and sexuality and morality that are relevant, and it talks about religious fundamentalism, which is obviously relevant as well. When I met this group, there was just something about certain actors that drew me to think they could play Angelo and the other roles. The play is full of drama and emotion and frenzy, and I thought they could really get their teeth into it and explore it." It worked, and the class-turned-cast was too pleased with the London production to let their Measure go by the wayside. Some serious fundraising and one long logistical nightmare later, they're installed in the theater at 45 Below Bleecker through May 5.
"It's great to be doing the show in New York," says Demetrius Martin, who plays Angelo in the production and is one of the show's producers. "Although, in a way, it's insane to start a non-profit theater in August, schedule your first show in April of the following year, and expect to do all the paperwork necessary. We also had to deal with Equity rules; four of us in the cast are union members, so we had to get a contract that suited us."
Perhaps the only thing that matches the difficulty of remounting the production is the complexity of the show itself. Under Shepphard's guidance, the roles in this Measure for Measure are cast with multiple actors. For example: Tali Friedman, an Israeli-born New Yorker and another of the producers, essays the role of Isabella...and so do two other people. "Yes, the three of us play Isabella, and we also have two Angelos and three Dukes," Friedman explains. "I like that a lot as an actor, and also as far as the storytelling goes."
Though it may sound as if multiple casting could lead to confusion on the part of the audience, Tali Friedman feels that, if anything, the plot and characters of Measure for Measure have been clarified by this approach. "The play is very accessible to people because of the way that it's directed and the way it's cast," she says. "Even my mom, who is Israeli and doesn't really understand the language, got the story."