MEASURE FOR MEASURE, Shakespeare’s Motley Crew, at the Athenaeum Theatre. With its reputation for launching full frontal attacks on the Bard, Shakespeare’s Motley Crew would seem the perfect company to tackle the volcanic passions and roiling-boil plot of Measure for Measure. Lechery has overrun Vienna, so the ineffectual duke hands power over to his deputy, Angelo, a Renaissance Kenneth Starr so self-righteous and passionless he reportedly pees ice. To the court’s horror, Angelo immediately condemns the well-loved nobleman Claudio to death for getting his fiancee pregnant. When Claudio’s convent-bound sister Isabella pleads for her brother’s life, Angelo offers an easy solution: Isabella allows him one quick rape and Claudio goes free. And that’s just the first act.

Director Kirsten Kelly, who so successfully fired Eugene O’Neill’s The Hairy Ape, here keeps the play at a slow simmer, giving the evening a disappointing flatness. The Viennese treat Angelo as an unreasonable parent rather than a murderous zealot, while Angelo seems to understand only dimly that the seduction of Isabella will mean perdition.

While the production’s many modern touches give it a certain immediacy, only Maia Rosenfeld as Mistress Overdone and Matt Janes as the provost give the play the stakes it needs. The rest haven’t dug deeply enough into the play or their characters–although Ric Kraus’s masterful turn as the duke in the final scene shows how much potential is here to be tapped.

–Justin Hayford