Went to see Isabella, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure by the Pig Iron Theater Company as part of the Live Arts Fringe Festival. Pig Iron is probably the most esteemed regular of the Fringe Festival, Philadelphia’s performing arts and experimental theater festival, and they’re known for intricate shows that have evolved from physical improvisation. This is, I think, the first time they’ve worked from an established play.

I’ve never see a Pig Iron production before, and I’ve always wanted to — so when I heard they were doing a Shakespeare adaptation, I made sure I bought tickets for Dana and I. Then last night I noticed that the latest podcast from Radio Times was an interview with the director, associate designer, and lead actor of the play. How cool, I thought, and looked forward to listening to the interview on my morning commute.

I nearly fell off my bike laughing this morning when I listened to the podcast and realized that 1) the play was going to be staged as the fantasy of a lonely coroner getting carried away with the corpses in his care and 2) most of the actors were going to be nude…naked. What’s more appropriate here, nude or naked? Necrophilia as comedy — I should have known. Now I’m just waiting to see how Dana will react when she realizes what’s going on. Too awesome.

Fortunately, the program didn’t give it away, and so Dana was completely innocent of the, ahem, unveiling of the conceit. I’m proud to say that she took it all in stride, though. It helped that the play was brilliant and not a gag. For such a surreal take, the play did, I think, a wonderful job making bold, confident, exquisitely paced transitions. I almost wanted to stand up and applaud the very clever climactic dance of the fourth act.

It was a very moving, very funny performance — and certainly the most original adaptation I’ve ever seen. I took pictures of the stage before and after, but I decided it was probably best not to photograph any of the actual performance, especially since we were sitting in the front row.

It was interesting how this piece, along with being a meditation on death, desire, power, and the body, was also a meditation on theatricality. Because the performers acted almost as human puppets, the play seems to deconstruct the vocabulary of theatrical gestures.

In many ways, this work typifies the kind of culminating activity I aspire my students to.

Oh come on, don’t be perverse.

What I mean is that I’d love it if my students took their unique talents and perspectives, even — and especially — if those talents weren’t literary in nature, and married them to a smart, informed reading of a text to draw out original insights, a unique and personal vision of meaning. — And to realize that vision in a rigorous, surprising, impassioned creative work. To have the iconoclastic courage to stand “naked” before their peers.

Isabella will run from August 29 to September 15 at the Ice Box Projects Space at the Crane Arts building on 1400 N. American St.

You can listen to the Radio Times interview by going to the Radio Times home page and looking up the August 30 show or searching for “Isabella.”

4 thoughts on “Isabella

  1. Sweet! That sounds even better than the version of Shakespeare I saw that was set in the year 2312 where the “ships” were spaceships. Why you need spaceships in a war between city-states is beyond me but it made me laugh.
    Enjoy the play. I want a recap.

    nude- without clothes
    naked- inappropriately without clothes
    nekkid- inappropriately without clothes and up to something inappropriate


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