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Measure for Measure (The Public Theater)

From 30 critic and 87 member reviews
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. 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.

Stage and Cinema

"Elevator Repair Service imagines this so-called 'problem play' as an irreverent screwball comedy, complete with rapid-fire dialogue and exaggerated transitions...The result is a remarkable piece of theater, and the most immediate, dynamic, and modern staging of a Shakespeare play I have seen...A dramatic dance in which rhythm and timing and the interconnectedness of gestures usurp the power of the text...The production illuminates the play’s essence much more than a literal staging." 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

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

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

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


"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


"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

Stage Buddy

“A screwball, slapstick rendering of the Bard’s problem play that is in turns hilarious, bizarre, and inscrutable...For Shakespeare purists, this interpretation may strike as overly-avant, and complete novices may find themselves in the dark, but for the many of us somewhere in the middle, it’s a one-of-a-kind tribute. It demonstrates the endless ways Shakespeare can be reinvented and reasserted as a salient voice for our time and for centuries to come.” 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

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

Off Off Online

"It tears through the niceties of Shakespeare’s plot only to screech to nearly a full stop in the scenes of highest tension, ensuring that none of the most meaningful fragments of 'needful value' passes unquestioned...The performances are entirely unpredictable from moment to moment...It is fun as hell, once one adjusts to the production’s rhythms...If this modern Shakespeare doesn’t quite coalesce, it still makes for a damn interesting bricolage." 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

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

Exeunt Magazine

"What they have done is stretch the text in some parts and, more often, compress it in others...The pacing can feel more capricious than meaningful, and sometimes flippant...The company’s signature, experimental approach to text here yields a deliberately radical result that sometimes is right for the text, and sometimes seems more in the service of the company’s concerns but it does deliver a 'Measure for Measure' for our satisfaction-driven, impatient, 21st century brains." 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


"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

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


"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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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

Clever, Delightful, Entertaining, Funny, Must see

See it if Shakespeare at it's best- funny, inventive, clever and wonderfully staged and acted. Made very accesssible. Timely, too!

Don't see it if you don't like broad, witty comedy

Ambitious, Clever, Refreshing, Entertaining

See it if think M/for/M is not one of your favorite Shakespeare plays. This refreshing approach tightens up the plot without changing text.

Don't see it if think Shakespeare must always be performed in the traditional classical style.

Clever, Great acting, Quirky

See it if you can keep up with quickly paced Shakespeare

Don't see it if you hate modernized Shakespeare

Clever, Delightful, Funny, Dizzying

See it if Enjoy a fun, intelligent interpretation of a rarely seen Shakespeare play.

Don't see it if You want a traditional 'reading' of Shakespeare.

Also I am not sure why all the negative reviews. My husband, daughter and m... Read more Read less

Edgy, Intense, Funny

See it if you know the plot in advance-try sparknotes or wikipedia first can wait an hour for the the intense energy to develop looking for an unconve

Don't see it if impatient can't handle a bit of slapstick are bothered by video screen running

One scene justifies the entire experiment

See it if you're ok w/ a single, brilliant, 5-10 min. scene that could forever change your reading of MfM even if the other 120 min. are a slog

Don't see it if you’re new to the play and want to understand Measure for Measure; you want a show that’s entertaining the whole time

Also This production speeds through the boring parts of MfM which, accordin... Read more Read less

Clever, Dizzying, Edgy, Quirky, Intelligent

See it if You are open minded about new interpretations of Shakespeare. You can see the humor in many situations that can be viewed as dark.

Don't see it if You want to see a traditional Shakespearean play where the language is an essential part of your enjoyment.

Clever, Riveting, Dizzying

See it if You appreciate experimental theatre and the fascinating approaches of the Elevator Repair Service

Don't see it if You can’t sit for 2 hours and 15 minutes with no intermission, you need the delivery straightforward, or if you’re a purist.

Ambitious, Dizzying, Funny, Confusing, Indulgent

See it if you'd like Measure for Measure performed with zany hijinx, rapid-fire delivery, and alternately too-fast and too-slow pacing.

Don't see it if the no-holds barred comic performances of the cast aren't enough to sway you to try out this slapstick version of the play.

Entertaining, Clever, Great acting, Funny, Intelligent

See it if you like modern adaptations of Shakespeare with the original text. Great touch to have the show on one set with actorsplaying multiple parts

Don't see it if you don't like shows with lengthy monologues or where the actors speak very quickly.

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

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

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

Ambitious, Confusing, Dizzying, Great acting, 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

Ambitious, Entertaining, Confusing

See it if You are a fan of the play and/or want to see a slapstick comedy style shakespeare

Don't see it if You can’t follow really quick dialogue

Clever, Funny, Great acting, Ambitious, Edgy

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, Indulgent, Clever

See it if you're a fan of the company or a Shakespeare completist.

Don't see it if you don't have some familiarity with the play.

Clever, Great acting, Ambitious, Quirky, Slow

See it if New concepts and innovative staging interest you, and you've an open mind to these different ideas.

Don't see it if you expect the traditional Shakespearean direction and that is your decided preference

Quirky, Dizzying, Confusing, Funny, 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.

Ambitious, Clever, Entertaining, Thought-provoking, Great staging

See it if you are fan of ERS and the talented troupe working at mach speed here fully committed to this interpretation of the Shakespeare text

Don't see it if you are not a fan of this "problem" play of Shakespeare's

Smart, Tactical, Great staging

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

Ambitious, Clever, Funny

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.

Clever, Great staging, Quirky

See it if experimental version of shakespeare play. slow at times. Two hours no intermission, great theater group with great talent. funny at times

Don't see it if if you are are tired of measure for measure or do not like video screen words and experimental theater

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Quirky

See it if You seek out unconventional productions of Shakespeare. This is a challenging interpretation of a "problem" play.

Don't see it if you're a Shakespeare traditionalist or if the very words "avant-garde" turn your stomach. Also it's over 2 hours, no intermission.

Ambitious, Confusing, Dizzying, Great acting, Indulgent

See it if you like traditional Shakespearean language, mixed era costumes,typical Elevator Repair Service sets. Not as good as TFANA production

Don't see it if are a traditionalist. They work too hard to break it down

Entertaining, Quirky, Thought-provoking, Slow, Cliched

See it if you like off-beat Shakespeare, you enjoy physical comedy, you want to see famous moments of this play in a new & interesting way

Don't see it if you are expecting something groundbreaking, you like traditional Shakespeare, you can't sit for more than 2 hours

Cast & Creatives (15)