Tygres Heart Shakespeare Company
1111 SW Broadway, 288-8400
Through Nov 5

Way back in early September, the two most appealing productions were Chris Coleman's Portland Center Stage debut with The Devils, and Charles Marowitz's version of Shakespeare's Measure for Measure opening its 10th season at Tygres Heart.

Well, last week we got The Devils, and a little something within us all died. But still strangely optimistic, the following week the eager theater buff takes a few steps west from where The Devils nightly commit their incomprehensible fustian, and enters the stripped down and boxy, though Globe-like, Winningstad Theater.

If Variations on "Measure for Measure" is somewhat more successful, it's because the interested spectator is at least experiencing the full vision of an individual artist. Marowitz, artistic director of the Malibu Stage Company--and an important writer on the theater--directs his own play, which is a rewrite of Measure for Measure (itself adapted from several sources) tilting it toward tragedy and social protest. Familiarity with Shakespeare's original is required, and Tygres Heart helpfully provides a detailed synopsis in its program. In the Shakespeare version, the Duke of Venice leaves the city only to return in disguise and monitor the methods of his successor. Later he helps the novitiate Isabella to trick that successor, Angelo, who is blackmailing Isabella into having sex with him in order to spare the life of her brother Claudio, sentenced to death for "fornication."

By the way, did I mention that Measure for Measure is supposed to be a comedy? It isn't any more. By removing the Duke's disguised return, and letting Angelo actually ravish Isabella, Marowitz sets up his dire ending, in which Isabella is publicly humiliated when trying to expose Angelo, jailed, and reduced to a playmate the Duke can summon at whim. The play ends with both the Duke and Angelo advancing on her, joined by her brother, and a fourth character of crude comic relief. They bear down on her like gang rapers. That one of these people is dead, and the other totally changed in character is confusing, but is a function of Marowitz's larger point about the subjection and destruction of good women by a corrupt male society where no man is trustworthy and women are tools of their machinations and lusts. Essentially, Marowitz turns Isabella into Ophelia.

There is nothing particularly wrong with Marowitz's text or with the simple staging. But the play should move, even anger, the spectator. That doesn't happen because, frankly, the acting isn't quite as clear, finely honed, and consistent as it should be. The cast for the most part labors adequately with the verbal mix of Bard and Marowitz, but some of them talk too fast, or without communicating full comprehension of the lines. Only Abby Craden, as the complex, dedicated, and noble Isabella, speaks with full feeling and complete vocal clarity. For the rest, word for word, or measure for measure, they are muffling the outrage.