Rampant crime engulfs Albuquerque.
Government corruption rules the land and prostitution and sexual trafficking abound.
And that’s just the sorcery of the stage.
The Aux Dog Theatre has transferred Shakespeare’s subversive comedy “Measure for Measure” from Vienna to the Duke City, opening on Friday.
The play is the second of Aux Dog’s “Shakespeare 505” series that began with 2017’s “Much Ado About Nothing.”
“It demonstrates Shakespeare’s relevance to current issues that are central to today’s prevailing moral climate,” director Vicki Liberatori said.
The director said she first thought of “Measure for Measure” when Mayor Tim Keller referred to the city’s controversial ART transportation project as “a bit of a lemon.”
“We are bringing in some very clear allusions to the crime and political corruption in our own state,” she said. “The city that Shakespeare talks about is so contemporary.”
Throughout it all, the character of Isabella stands as the author’s moral center.
The Duke (think the governor/mayor of Albuquerque), like many of Shakespeare’s leaders, is reluctant to wield his power after 14 years of rule. As a result, the city is in turmoil.
“He decides he’s going to go undercover as a priest and observe the people of his city,” Liberatori said.
The Duke puts the law-and-order Angelo in charge.
“Angelo starts enforcing all the rules, one of which is you can’t have sex outside of marriage,” Liberatori said.
Angelo arrests Claudio, condemning him to death for the crime of fornication. But Claudio’s sister Isabella, on the precipice of taking her vows as a nun, intervenes and begs Angelo for her brother’s life.
“Angelo, who has always been cold as ice, finds himself having strong feelings of sexual desire and passion for this woman,” Liberatori said.
Angelo attacks Isabella and she resists. He tells her she must submit if she wants to save her brother.
“You find the central hypocrisy of Angelo,” Liberatori said. “He actually commits the crime he has condemned Claudio to death for.”
The play explores justice and mercy, hypocrisy and sin and crime, Liberatori said. “That is front-page news.”
With “Shakespeare 505,” the director hopes to bring a fresher, more accessible version of The Bard to Albuquerque audiences.