Measure for Pleasure
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
March 3, 2006
I didn't get the point of David Grimm's new play Measure for Pleasure. Its title reminds me (and, I'll bet, many people) of one of Shakespeare's plays, but there's nothing in the script alluding to that particular work, although the entire piece is pastiche: why send the audience off on the wrong course before the show even begins, I wonder?
Grimm's target, or inspiration, is Restoration Comedy; the idea of Measure for Pleasure seems to be to create a brand new 18th century sex farce/comedy of manners in the style of The Country Wife or The Rivals. Sir Peter Lustforth, oh so bored with his plain but oversexed middle-aged wife Lady Vanity, is lusting after pretty young Hermione Goode. Hermione lives with a puritanical aunt, Dame Stickle, who disapproves of her romance with handsome Captain Dick Dashwood. With Sir Peter's help, Dashwood disguises himself as a music master and moves into the Lustforth household: the former is hoping that Dashwood will woo Lady Vanity, thus freeing Sir Peter to pursue Hermione; but Dashwood, unbeknownst to his friend, is planning to court Hermione in this new persona.
Meanwhile, Will Blunt, Sir Peter's valet, has romantic difficulties of his own: he is in love with Molly Tawdry, a transvestite prostitute. Will helps Molly get a position as Lady Vanity's maid, with the unforeseen result that Molly meets and falls in love with Dick Dashwood.
There's also a secret society (that actually existed, according to the program), where Sir Peter and his lascivious middle-aged associates hold orgies.
Grimm doesn't rock the boat structurally, so the final outcome isn't particularly in doubt. Grimm does rock the boat sociopolitically, or at least he could, by having as his main pair of lovers two gay proletarian men. But the novelty of their match-up isn't particularly acknowledged in the script; everyone on stage seems entirely comfortable with Will and Molly living happily ever after, which is lovely but not especially pointed, except perhaps in the subtlest of ways.
Grimm's script is sprightly but overlong: the poetry isn't arresting enough to be of more than passing interest, and frankly by the end of each act, I was getting fidgety in my chair. The thing is filled with dirty jokes—too many for its own good, I fear. When the big second act laugh comes from having a repressed old maiden lady wander on stage holding a dildo, well, that suggests something along the lines of desperation, doesn't it.
Director Peter DuBois offers a serviceable staging, but only that. The actors are generally fine, with Euan Morton's Molly and Michael Stuhlbarg's Will a genuinely appealing romantic couple to root for, and Emily Swallow's Hermione a beautiful and forceful ingenue. The scene-stealer is the accomplished Suzanne Bertish as the unlovely Lady Vanity; she's not sufficiently matched by Wayne Knight as Sir Peter. Saxon Palmer is handsome but ultimately a cipher as Dashwood.
Measure for Pleasure evidences a solid writing talent, but its apparent lack of purpose—as satire, let's say—makes me wonder what Grimm was hoping to accomplish in writing it. The notion of putting a gay relationship inside a classical framework seems to suggest all manner of interesting possibilities in this year of gay marriage and Brokeback Mountain backlash. But none come to fruition here: a pity.