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Measure for Measure (The Public Theater)

Members say: Ambitious, Confusing, Disappointing, Quirky, Clever

About the show

Elevator Repair Service, the Obie-winning company behind 'Gatz,' returns to The Public to celebrate their 25th season with a new production of Shakespeare’s dark comedy about vice and hypocrisy.

... Read more

With athletic theatricality and Marx-Brothers-inspired slapstick, the ERS ensemble brings new life to this story of impossible moral choices in 17th-century Vienna. Radical experiments with speed set the play’s combination of the comically absurd and the tragically serious in stark relief, and deliver a new show that marries the company’s unique performance style with the Bard’s exquisitely lyrical language. ERS Founder and Artistic Director John Collins directs.

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"I usually lower my expectations for 'Measure'...But even in over-conceptualized versions, there’s usually at least one, thought-provoking portrayal that illuminates. Mr. Collins’s production does feature one such performance, from Mr. Shepherd. Mostly, though, it translates the challenges of a notorious problem play into ‘oh, why not?’ parlor tricks and slapstick. Much of the intermissionless, two-hours-plus show is conducted at a rushing tempo that defies comprehension." Full Review


"The lack of clarity seems intentional...The absence of understandable wit makes the evening seem a frenetic blur...But then everything slows down for an emotional scene...If at this point a viewer can moved by the story and characters, it is most likely from previous familiarity with the play...This 'Measure for Measure' appears to be a case of concept over content....If you're not satisfied with the results, you may still find the effort quite admirable." Full Review

Time Out New York

"As far as language goes, the production is often unintelligible...That doesn’t matter in the clown bits, but one misses important information and poetry in other scenes...Yet the show has many compensatory assets...Several performances are delightful...And the production is funny in unexpected ways...Audiences who don’t know 'Measure for Measure' may well find this version confusing. Those who know the text well, however, will find much to enjoy in ERS’s pointed run-through." Full Review


"There's much to recommend 'Measure for Measure' as a play for our times...But there's somewhat less to recommend Elevator Repair Service's new production. John Collins directs the play at a frenetic pace. Though this does make for some high-octane performances, the play's language is sometimes rendered incomprehensible by the rapid-fire delivery...While Elevator Repair Service deserves kudos for pushing the play to its limits, we wish it were a little more measured in pushing us to ours." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"It's more like 'Highlights from Measure'...Sargeant and Groff are giving what are by far the production's standout performances...Otherwise, under Collins' direction, it's anything goes. Admittedly, 'Measure' is a confounding work...While most productions try to find some rationale for these events, Collins and company throw up their hands, dispensing with psychology altogether...This production has everything but a baseline interest in the text." Full Review

Cultural Weekly

"Collins imposes a meta sensibility, throwing out conventional staging...The cast races through the dialogue striking exaggerated stereotypical poses and posturing in mock 'Shakespearean' style...Just as Collins’ quirky concept wears thin, the speed-freak patter slows down during the jailhouse scene...The contrast increases the emotional resonance and temporarily brings a stunning authenticity to this 'Measure,' but the rest is a showy, if interesting gimmick." Full Review

New York Theater

“There are watchable moments, occasional visual appeal in the design, even some touching scenes. But it’s difficult to figure out – or appreciate — what director John Collins is up to…To me, this ‘Measure for Measure’ counts as a missed opportunity...Moments of provocative drama must compete with the broad theatricality of the ERS brand, which can be fun, but persists in this production for more than two hours without intermission, and mostly without letup.” Full Review

Front Row Center

"Under the direction of John Collins, the cast delivers their lines with such speed that for much of the two hours (no intermission) they are unintelligible...This cast gives it everything they have. The pacing, however, does them in. We cannot follow what we do not understand...The plot is deciphered enough for us to understand the conclusion. By the time it arrives, however, we are almost mad with the desire to flee the sound of this nearly consonant free buzzing and rush out into the night." Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“ERS's version of the play…while faithful to the script,…is a mélange of avant-garde tropes that eventually become more important than the play itself. This isn't to deny that occasional flashes of insight occur…The tradeoff, though, is a show so bogged down in gimmickry that you lose interest in the narrative and instead focus on directorial 'ingenuity.'…This 'Measure for Measure' is a solipsistic exercise that serves more to obscure than clarify what's already difficult enough to comprehend.” Full Review

The Huffington Post

"Collins has all cast members hurl themselves into what increasingly turns into an off-putting travesty...Each of thesps is only intermittently allowed to look like more than adequate participants in a third-rate SNL skit. It’s as if, concentrating on Shakespeare for the first time, Collins reckoned that the vaunted canon isn’t much good. As a result, he figured that having his insouciant way with 'Measure' would allow him to call attention to Shakespeare’s sorry deficiencies." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"This troubled play has become even more so...As soon as this show started, it went into gibberish...The actors played around with the language in tonality, most of it shouting or in hideous southern drawls...Not a whole lot of acting was going on unless bizarre slapstick counts...The only moment in the entire production that truly felt relevant was when Isabella and Claudio are in prison...If I had not known the play, I would have been lost in translation." Full Review


“A mess that lands primarily as a showcase for the amazing Scott Shepherd…The effect of John Collins’ gimmicky production is breathless, as if to say let’s race through this and just get to the good parts. But the good parts are nearly as incomprehensible (except when Shepherd is commanding a scene). With the language – especially the good parts – spun into a word smoothie, I couldn’t really tell what the point is.” Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"Their tactics fail to engage, and causes the brain, well, at least my brain, to tune out...It is a unique and cerebral approach, filled with wit and cleverness, and I applaud ERS for their bravery, their theoretical ideas, and their willingness to experiment. Unfortunately, the poetry and the musicality is erased, and we are left with a confusing chaotic mess that at moments feel too speedy for its own good, and deadly slow and dull at the same time." Full Review

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Medium is the message here and that message is pure Shakespeare and pure and unrefined 'Measure for Measure.' Under Collins’s inventive and meticulous direction, the play 'gathers to a greatness like the ooze of oil crushed' to a grandeur that defines itself for a new era...ERS’s 'Measure' is itself an exercise in rhythm...Shakespeare’s words scroll across the set in ERS’s 'Measure for Measure' and demand to be reckoned with in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"A wildly inventive and often thrilling production...Truly, if the entire cast and the timing of the performances were not so carefully aligned, the entire enterprise would implode on itself and wind up as nothing more than a clever piece of gimmickry. The comedy is spun to the height of ridiculousness, and at a sacrifice to Shakespeare's language...Elevator Repair Service has pulled off a remarkable feat here by using the pacing of the play in support of delineating its serious intent." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"Rattling off Shakespearean dialogue as if in a speed-talking contest? That’s just too much of a leap, and apart from occasional laughs and one scene that takes hold emotionally for a short spell, this interpretation is a misguided exercise. That doesn’t mean that the cast isn’t worthy. Working against the text, the actors do their best to interpret the zany plot...They seem to be at home with their top-speed discourse. Of course, this thoroughly vitiates the beauty of Shakespeare’s language." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"As if pressing a fast-forward button, the performers periodically rattle through huge chunks of dialogue at warp speed...Collins thereby sacrifices intelligibility for screwball energy...Intricate even by the Bard’s standards. Bewilderment thus seems inevitable here...Several lively performances nonetheless bring out the play’s bawdy spirit...Simpson’s flair for slapstick also stands out...This production otherwise struggles to carry off its hefty textual burden." Full Review

The Washington Post

"Some virtually unrecognizable version of itself, like an operating room full of inept plastic surgeons botching a facelift...Elevator Repair Service proves here to be wholly out of its element with Shakespeare...The modern-dress actors spit out much of Shakespeare’s language as if they’re in an Olympic speed-reading contest...With this production’s silly affectations, Elevator Repair Service turns a problem play into a merely ridiculous one." Full Review

Daily Beast

"As well as an exercise in animating the original text, this production, directed with typical imaginative invention by John Collins, is an exercise in what text is, and how it should be performed...As the Duke (Scott Shepherd) weaves all manner of plot and counter-plot, and the play ends cleverly in total chaos as loose ends are hastily woven together. The company look askance and exhausted—Shakespeare has merrily done them in, and us too." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"It’s thrilling to see a group of artists throw themselves into a project where there’s the actual risk that the whole thing might go terribly wrong...In this case, some things have gone pretty seriously wrong...There’s so much potential resonance here that it’s maddening to watch the ERS production skate across the play’s surface...Collins is more interested in the game he’s playing with Shakespeare’s text than in its content...Some of the ERS ensemble do manage to rise above the gimmickry." Full Review


"ERS takes the play to a new space of feeling and being letting its tragic and comic elements intersect provocatively...The shenanigans interspersed into scenes add zest, but the helter-skelter pacing of the dialogue may have you feeling somewhat confused...It's almost impossible to absorb the text and the stage proceedings simultaneously — but it's exhilarating and fun...Although the ERS venture is off-beat, it remains faithful to Shakespeare's essential dramaturgy." Full Review

Village Voice

“For all the silly, superficial things they do, every detail seems to have been carefully chosen and calculated. It’s just that what they do has so little relation to the story that I thought Shakespeare was telling us...This company uses every kind of effect - But the effects don’t harmonize with each other...These actors are quite talented...They don’t appear to the best advantage here because they are all devoted to this feckless way of taking the play off its conventional pedestal." Full Review

This Week in New York Blog

"It’s like Howard Hawks’s 'His Girl Friday' on speed…You’ll be able to follow the general shenanigans…An exciting version of one of Shakespeare’s seldom-performed problem plays. Director Collins and ERS have chosen to make the ribald shenanigans take a backseat to the staging, which is filled with delightful contradictions and decisions that go from the sublime to the ridiculous…Shakespeare purists might wag a finger at but more adventurous theatergoers will end up clapping wildly." Full Review


"This 'Measure for Measure' is a revelation, a truly expert use of Shakespeare that allows opportunities for rethinking not only theatrical space but the play itself." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“Leave it to the adventurous Elevator Repair Service company to take a challenging Shakespearean text like ‘Measure for Measure’...and turn it into a wacky and wonderful romp...The text is the star of the show – as spoken by the cast and as projected simultaneously on the upstage wall...There’s method in this director’s madness. Ultimately, all these clashing styles coalesce into a glorious, zany, exuberant, hodge-podge whole.” Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating

See it if You must see everything the Public Theater puts on the stage, no matter what. Or, if you like getting headaches, this one is for you.

Don't see it if You like theater to be intelligible. This experimental treatment misses the mark by a mile.

Great staging, Smart, Tactical

See it if you enjoy the quirky avant-garde work from ERS and dont mind teleprompter for Shakespeare

Don't see it if you prefer a traditional Shakespearean staging

Confusing, Disappointing, Slow

See it if you're interested in new and innovative ways of approaching shakespeare

Don't see it if you want a classical adaptation of shakespeare, or one full of excitement

Ambitious, Indulgent, Slow, Tedious, Irritating

See it if you love Shakespeare in any form and are willing to tolerate an admittedly ambitious but enervating and slow production.

Don't see it if you want something fresh, entertaining, or stimulating. It tries, but ultimately is high energy going nowhere.

Disappointing, Huh?, An aural mess

See it if You have to see every production of Measure on stage right now, regardless...wait, no you don’t! See Desperate Measures instead!

Don't see it if You love the language of Shakespeare.

Also Elevator Repair Service beyond horrible with Measure for Measure. Slur... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Quirky, Confusing

See it if You are a diehard fan of ERS. Although I am a fan of theirs this interpretation of Measure for Measure was disappointing.

Don't see it if You want a more traditional play without gimmicks and confusion. Also, over two hours without an intermission was very long in this case.

Funny, Dizzying, Quirky, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if you have the patience not to be thrown by a very eccentric production. There's terrific acting & some profound & funny moments buried here.

Don't see it if untraditional treatment of Shakespeare bothers you. Much of the slapstick is pointless & the production is disjointed & often irrational.

Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating, Slow

See it if Interested in a 2 hour and 20 minutes (no intermission) mangled production of a Shakespeare comedy with little humor.

Don't see it if if you are looking for an entertaing production of a Shakespearean comedy.

Disappointing, Slow

See it if You adore anything by Shakespeare and can sit for over 2 hours with no break.

Don't see it if You only like traditional formats of Shakespeare plays. This was a fast paced comic rendition of this playwhich sadly missed the mark.

Funny, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Quirky

See it if You are a fan of ERS. You want to see the absolute most unusual rendering of this classic Shakesperian play ever ! You are open minded.

Don't see it if You can’t leave Pre-conceived ideas out of your mind. You are uncomfortable if you can’t understand everything you hear !

Also If you have never experienced an ERS production this is probably not t... Read more Read less

Quirky, Indulgent, Confusing, Slow

See it if You are very, very familiar with Shakespeare's plot, can tolerate drastically reimagined classics, enjoy what may be creative gimmicks,

Don't see it if You want your Bard done in linear style that doesn't challenge, don't like edited, rethought productions that can be hard to follow

Funny, Ambitious, Clever

See it if are curios about experiments with Shakespeare and timing in theatre. Re-read the summary prior to the show.

Don't see it if ..can't seat trough 2 h with no intermission, there is no re-entry. You expect something conventional.


See it if Don’t go see this, it’s truly a terrible production. I watched several people leave this one act WAY TOO LONG banal performance

Don't see it if N/A

Disappointing, Gimmicky, Irritating

See it if You will see anything by the Elevator Repair Service...even their lesser presentations.

Don't see it if You dislike dialogue delivered so quickly as to be incomprehensible, followed by scenes that drag out the interaction.

Ambitious, Quirky, Disappointing, Brisk, Erratic

See it if an unconventional approach to Shakespeare

Don't see it if it is unpleasant to listen to unintelligible speed-talking and view busy choreographed distractions simultaneously

Ambitious, Dizzying, Great acting, Confusing, Hilarious

See it if ERS's ability to find and/or create clever and slapstick humor is unparalleled; company shows its great versatility in multiple roles

Don't see it if Attempt to distill a moderate Shakespeare piece cannot overcome its mediocrity despite the humor and stage creativity

Indulgent, Inexplicably schizoid, Lacks any subtlety

See it if Anything in theater is all right? How about a Shakespearean dramedy where several players act & the remainder do shtick? It's wearying &...

Don't see it if cloying. Add the incomprehensible speed at which much dialogue is delivered & you realize why there is no intermission - who would stay?

Quirky, Good actors underused

See it if Helps if you like Shakespeare comedies, helps if you know the text, helps if you like unique interpretations.

Don't see it if You don't know the play (you will miss much of it). You care for the issues (Weinstein anyone?), the emotion, the angst instead of sly jokes

Indulgent, Disappointing, Excruciating, Overrated, Slow

See it if Nope. Okay. See it if you're interested in concepts and their execution, and watching how it can work and how it can fail.

Don't see it if You're not a theatermaker who'd benefit from watching a misfire.

Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating, Fast, Butchery

See it if You listen to your podcasts on 2.25x playback. The cast speaks in hyperspeed for 70% of the show.

Don't see it if You like Shakespeare.

Also For once, I agree with Ben Brantley basically verbatim. Read the NYT r... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Clever, Dizzying, Confusing, Disappointing

See it if You LOVE ERS and all they do. Occassionally funny mixed with a lot of WTF?

Don't see it if you like hearing Shakespeare's words. Brutally fast in some places, excruciatingly slow in others. This was all over the place.

Ambitious, Dizzying, Epic, Disappointing, Great staging

See it if you love avant garde-ish theater. The text rules all here, and some of the performances are notable

Don't see it if you are not familiar with the plot or are not particularly quick at picking up plots (this one runs fast and free)

Hard to get into the rhythm, Know the story before you see this play

See it if you want to see Mr. Shepherd do a bang up job as the Duke. See it if you want a condensed version of the play.

Don't see it if you have trouble hearing when actors are speaking at a rapid pace. Don't see it if you are expecting true Shakespeare.

Also If you are not familiar with the play, first see "Desperate Measures" ... Read more Read less

Funny, Ambitious, Clever, Edgy, Great acting

See it if Elevator Repair Service - they of Gatz fame - meets Shakepare tackling judgement morality and justice in a manic but uneven production

Don't see it if You need your Shakespeare pure and don’t like modern updates in style speed costume and staging even with very inventive staging

Ambitious, Confusing, Great staging

See it if You enjoy contemporary staging of Shakepeare's classics; and know enough about the play to independently connect the dots.

Don't see it if You prefer your Shakespeare well enunciated and audible; or staged with Elizabethan sensibilities.

Cast & Creatives (15)