MEASURE FOR MEASURE, Stone Circle Theatre, at Profiles Theatre. In their production of The Sneeze last August, the Stone Circle Theatre displayed an originality and competence rare in fledgling companies. What attracted them this year to Shakespeare’s most problematic comedy (which resolves outrageous sexual harassment–of a soon-to-be nun, yet–with the old Bedroom Switcheroo gimmick) is as inexplicable as their classroom-exercise rendering is disappointing.

It’s not just the makeshift costumes and set, the latter of which includes a chair borrowed from the theater lobby, nor is it the actors stumbling over their words while they rush through speeches as if they might forget them any minute. It is the almost total inattention to character and subtext, resulting in emotions that spring to the surface with no evidence of their origin beyond the playwright’s demands. The sacred rosary in Isabella’s hand might as well be a Band-Aid for all the importance she attaches to it, and her battle with the lecherous Angelo for her virginity is reduced from a casuistic travesty to a petty and petulant squabble.

Other actors substitute vocal mannerisms and facile commedia shtick for personalities or simply recite their classical rhetoric with the minimal phrasing of a newscaster, though Arthur Solomon gives Escalus a certain phlegmatic presence. Only Jason Martin lets us see the duplicitous Lucio’s mind working even when he’s not speaking, which he does with an enunciation as clean and deliberate as the rest of this production is not.

–Mary Shen Barnidge