Excitement is in the room as we begin our second First Look Series workshop of the season. Described as "Blazing Saddles meets Shakespeare," Measure for Measure: A Boarding School Comedy is Native Voices founder and artistic director Randy Reinholz's adaptation of the William Shakespeare play, Measure for Measure. The original Shakespeare piece, written around 1603, deals with Catholicism's contradictions and asks serious questions about who should have moral authority. Who gets to decide right from wrong? And moreover, are the morally and spiritually righteous actually immune to the very same earthly, human impulses that get the rest of us into trouble?
Reinholz's adaptation is set in the American Old West, where the law is still in flux. Puritan Christian authority struggles to excercise control over late 19th century Genoa, Nebraska. Here, diversity and entrepreneurial opportunity flourish in form of the female-owned-and-run saloon and brothel, The Stewed Prunes Saloon. In direct contrast, however, the Indian Industrial School of Genoa strives to "Kill the Indian, Save the Man" by assimilating Native youth into the Christian belief system. A part of American history often left out of textbooks, the Indian industrial schools (or boarding schools) of the 19th to 20th centuries have been described by many as a system of cultural genocide.
The problem of cultural assimilation becomes apparent when a young Native man, Momaday, impregnates his Irish fiancee, Caitlin. The town's conservative authority figure, Angelo, refuses to recognize Momaday and Caitlin's marriage because it was done in the Indian way, rather than as a Christian ceremony. Momaday is sentenced to death for getting a white girl pregnant, and the townspeople converge to save him from an unjust fate.
Despite the depth of the ideas and themes in this adaptation, the play is outlandishly funny. As Reinholz describes it, "This issue [Indian boarding schools] rouses deep emotions even today. A play about this subject seems to want some kind of theatrical distance– so I chose comedy." Raucous, bawdy scenes of broad comedy are juxtaposed with Shakespeare's heightened poetry. Women have a stronger part to play in the resolution of this play than in the original text, too.
Is this your first pass at playwriting/adapting a play? What made you decide to adapt this play, Measure for Measure, now?
As a director, I have often come up with concepts about where and when a Shakespeare text should occur. Early in my career it was about choosing a time and geographic region that would serve the aesthetics of the play. Then, with all the university work I did, it also became important that productions introduced students to the lives and values of people of various periods and regions of the world.
Through the years, I became more confident using Shakespeare's story structure and changing character motivations to redirect the audience's focus and reveal other worlds of the play. Looking at Measure for Measure– which I have always loved– I thought I could make some simple changes to the text. I wanted to shift the focus of the story to the Old West, and substitute the examination of the institution of Catholicism to the brutality of Indian boarding schools. So few Americans know of this institution, its “moral” value system and the long-term cultural damage done by people of faith. Measure for Measure is both extremely funny and potentially tragic in the way the characters both abuse power and abdicate the responsibility for true governance.
|Left to right: DeLanna Studi (Isabel), |
Kenneth Ruthardt (James McDonald),
and Chris Anthony (Director)
Come see our FREE staged reading of Measure for Measure: A Boarding School Comedy, this Thursday, October 24th at 7:30pm at the Autry. Click here for more details!