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Measure for Measure explores sin, redemption

Lights hit the black stage as actors waited for the director’s “go” to rehearse a procession scene from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.

With less than a month before opening night, director Mark Hallen pushed for actors to get off-book. Proudly wearing his Boston Red Sox cap, Hallen moved the actors around the stage like chess pieces to get the look and feel of the procession scene just right.

Students struggling to memorize lines often filled the empty hallways of McInnis with their opened scripts and Shakespeare-filled voices.

Senior Mai Kuribara found herself spiritually challenged by working with open and loving people on a play richly themed in hypocrisy.

“It is a wake-up call,” Kuribara said. “Playing someone rooted in manipulation and lies stops me to think, both on and off stage, if I really do anything that is hypocritical in my everyday life.”

Junior Liz Carlson carries a shared sense of challenge by playing a character so immersed in lies that she changes her gender to spin her manipulative spool.

“It is a bizarre role to play, and yet so poignant,” Carlson said. “The challenge is portraying a rapist, murderer, power-crazed lunatic who still has some fabric of humanity knit somewhere inside of him or her,” Carlson said.

She described the nature of the role and its climactic redemption as a measure of the immeasurable love Christ has for us.

With the most lines to remember, a waitress position at the Theresa Café and classes, Carlson simply said that it pushes procrastination into non-existence.

“It is a process to both memorize over a thousand lines and truly enter and become your character,” she said. “You have to sometimes get lost in the script to really find what you’re looking for. But when you do, like all Shakespeare plays, it is just, mmmmm,” Carlson said with satisfaction.

Not all actors in Measure for Measure are currently Eastern students. Jim Bergwall, a guest artist and colleague of Hallen, plays the Duke. Bergwall is a local actor in Philadelphia and was in Eastern’s recent production, The Exonerated.

“I really enjoy working with these students,” Bergwall said.

“I think I am most turned on by their love and discovery of the script,” he added. “The changes and contributions they make behind the scenes truly light up the stage during practice, even though the audiences cannot appreciate it.”

Having professional acting beneath his belt, Bergwall encourages student actors with suggestions during practices.

Dr. Caroline Cherry, who teaches Shakespeare, is delighted that Measure For Measure is coming to Eastern’s stage.

“It takes a brilliant director like Mark Hallen to bridge Shakespeare’s world with twenty-first century Eastern University’s world through capturing familiar themes of love, power, hypocrisy and the need for inward assessment of the human being,” Cherry said.

Cherry is requiring her students to attend the play. She commends Eastern actors for standing up to the challenge of a Shakespeare play. To do this kind of a play justice, students must seize the subtleties and complexities of their characters, she said.

Meanwhile, they must believably deliver their characters to the audience through rich, poetic and rhythmic dialogues that cannot be fudged, Cherry said.

“It is a problem play that leaves the director the job of making a not-so-satisfactory ending satisfactory,” Cherry said.

Hallen tried to illustrate.

“Picture a Jaguar automobile. Take out the engine, and replace it with a real jaguar,” he said. “That is what we are doing with this play.”

His primary aim was to tear down the walls of each actor’s security level in order to free them to become the genuine, though distasteful, article. Hallen said Christians tend to be taken aback by the vileness of society.

But when actors sacrifice their souls, not their lives, to the production, an audience member can truly witness what sin is. By bringing these characters’ dark traits to the stage, the actors are able to portray the imprisoning nature of sin.

“It is the destruction of self that will hopefully make this play richly compressed in themes applicable to our society and walk with the Lord pulse in the hearts of audiences,” Hallen said.

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