Having seen both within a matter of days, you can’t help but compare the pre-Broadway version of “All Shook Up” with “Measure for Measure,” now in a cleanly executed, rather decent production by Barbara Gaines at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Whereas the Elvis musical centers on the relaxing of sexual strictures, Shakespeare’s most problematic “comedy” spirals out in the opposite direction. A long-ignored law against fornication is brought back to life when the Duke of Vienna appoints his morally unimpeachable deputy, Angelo, to clean up the sleaze and restore a little honor to the joint. That’s right you whorebags, no more coitus non-maritus, and Angelo (played with a seething darkness by Jay Whittaker) is not kidding around. The guy has apparently never heard of a grandfather clause, either; right off the bat, he condemns a nice young man named Claudio, who has impregnated his financée prior to the wedding. Claudio’s virginal sister, Isabella (Dana Green, too much of a weeping willow, not enough of a wily intellect) delays her career as a nun to travel to Vienna, where she pleads with Angelo to spare her brother’s life. The sanctimonious always make the best of hypocrites, and Angelo does not disappoint. He offers to call off the execution if Isabella will kindly spread her legs and say “please.” Rape by ultimatum—not exactly funny stuff. As envisioned by Gaines, the nasty business unfurls in a heel-clicking, dancehall version of Vienna that is less akin to Sodom than Berlin’s Weimar period, shrouded in a perpetual mist of dry ice and premonitions of Fascism. What the production lacks in pacing, it makes up for in clarity. The ending leaves a bad taste, but that’s always been the case with this play. It is a bitter little pill, perhaps less about the corruption of power than simply what Shakespeare saw as a generalized corruption of men and the powerlessness of women. (Nina Metz)
This production is now closed.