Suzanne Warmanen as the Duke in Measure for Measure.
Photo courtesy Ten Thousand Things
Tackling Measure for the Measure for the third time in the last 14 years, director Michelle Hensley knows a few things about the piece. Chief among them: Casting an actress as the Duke is vital.
"If I had to cast a man as the duke, that would be creepy and gross," Hensley says about Vincentio, who announces he is leaving the city at the beginning of the play -- but actually stays behind to spy on his deputy, who quickly runs amok in Vienna.
"I just keep being surprised. The main place [in the script] is discovering what things the duke has plotted out and what she is improvising," Hensley says.
The play stars Suzanne Warmanen as the Duke, with Luverne Seifert as the deputy Angelo, Nathan Barlow as the lover sentenced to die Claudio, and Sonja Parks as Isabella, his betrothed. The cast also includes India Gurley, Karen Wiese-Thompson, Zach Curtis, and Kurt Kwan.
Peter Vitale, who was cast in Ten Thousand Things' first production of the play 14 years ago, is again on hand to create the musical backdrop for the show. As the company performs with minimal sets and no stage lighting, sound is always an important component of the productions.
"This is one of the quietest ones. There are no songs in it. It is simple in that regard, but the shows are never simple or easy," Vitale says. "I like to sit around in meetings and listen to everyone's insights and ideas. That becomes the sparks for sound."
The limitations also serve as inspiration. As many of Ten Thousand Things performances are held in prisons, certain tools -- like laptop computers -- are forbidden.
"I'm not a creative person when it comes to a blank piece of canvas," Vitale says. "The limitations and requirements make it a case of problem solving."
"As a director, it is my joy to have those limitations," Hensley says. "The focus and priority has to be connecting with an audience that has not seen theater before. All of these choices stem from that very organically. It just comes from, 'Why are they going to care about this?'"
It's a play that prison audiences strongly connect with, notes Vitale.
"They always key into the themes of power and justice and the imbalance of power," he says. "They know from the look in someone's eye how it will play out."
"There is no character who is completely good. Every character has problems, but every character can by sympathetic, too. You are never quite sure who to side with," Hensley says.
"It feels complex without being complicated. The subplot folks have a connection to the main focus. There isn't this other play going on," Vitale says.
Two years ago, Hensley and Ten Thousand Things worked with the Public Theater to bring a similar project to New York, starting off with Measure for Measure.
"The New York actors were wonderful; the Twin Cities actors are every bit as good," Hensley says. "I think because in New York this was the first time for everybody going into these institutional places. It's a little more on edge. We're a little more relaxed about it. We know all of the spaces."
Performing for the non-traditional audiences and then the paying ones "is not better or worse. It is just different," Hensley says.
"Everything is new to them," Vitale says about the audiences at prisons, community centers, homeless shelters, and other non-traditional venues. "It could be a play that Kira [Obelensky] just wrote or Measure for Measure. It's all new to them."
IF YOU GO
Measure for Measure
1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis
8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 4 p.m. Sundays
Through October 21
The October 18 performance is at Plymouth Congregational Church (1900 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis)
For tickets and information, call 800.838.3006 or visit online