San Diego Theater Review: DESPERATE MEASURES (North Coast Rep in Solano Beach/San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on February 3, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

A SHAKESPEAREAN WESTERN MUSICAL?
DON’T WORRY, IT MEASURES UP

Love Shakespeare? Great. Hate Shakespeare? No problem. North Coast Rep’s Desperate Measures may be based on the Bard’s Measure for Measure, but the language is fully contemporary (unless you count a hint of 1950s Western thrown in). The whole program only contains one line from actual Shakespeare and even that line is only to help the show poke fun at itself.

What’s most brilliant in the writing, though, is that — despite completely modernized language − playwright Peter Kellogg keeps a rhyme scheme going through all of the non-sung dialogue. Sometimes the person rhymes themselves; sometime the rhyme is in response to someone else. And, as with Shakespeare, sometimes that rhyme is in the middle of a thought, so you almost don’t catch it when the line is delivered as well as this cast of six does. It’s not heavy-handed and, at times, you will likely find yourself not even hearing rhymes because you’re just getting caught up in the delicious plot, but Kellogg’s determined rhythm is always there, much like the narration of How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Rudy Martinez, Rusty Ferracane, Samantha Duval, Jo Garcia-Reger,
Elijah Rock & Michael Louis Cusimano

The plot is derived from Measure for Measure but, as an opening monologue makes clear, it’s also noticeably different, whether or not you are familiar with the Bard’s plot. A few characters have been merged and subplots have been dropped so that, all in all, it’s easy to follow and add songs. And a cute plot it is:

Sweet-but-not-too-bright cowboy Johnny Blood (Michael Louis Cusimano) shot a man in the saloon, both in self defense and standing up for his love, Bella, who just happens to be the town’s most cheerful prostitute (Samantha Duval). The villainous state governor (Rusty Ferracane, dripping with detestability like Dicķ Dastardly) has decreed that Johnny’s witnesses aren’t the most credible characters, so Johnny is sentenced to be hanged. Johnny’s friend, Sheriff Green (Elijah Rock) seeks out Johnny’s sister Susanna (Jo Garcia-Reger), thinking she’ll be a credible character witness because she’s about to become a nun. But when the Governor takes a liking to her, the plot grows thicker…and more Shakespearean in its twists and antics (if not language).

Jo Garcia-Reger, Rudy Martinez, Samantha Duval,
Michael Louis Cusimano, Rusty Ferracane & Elijah Rock

The exaggerated characters, mischievous storyline, and comedic elements would make Desperate Measures a lively, fun production, even if no one had sung a single word, but we’re glad that they do. Kellogg’s lyrical collaboration with musician David Friedman — matched up with NCR’s live four-piece band — yields wonderfully upbeat and playful songs used for character insight and tale advancement. When coupled with some seriously-trained voices and gorgeous harmonies, clever word play songs like “Just For You” and “About Last Night” may leave you wanting to download the Original Cast Recording to relive the fun from home, just like this writer just did.

Desperate Measures deftly walks the fine line between being exquisitely smart and delightfully goofy. As the run ends soon, rush out to see this one.

Jo Garcia-Reger, Rudy Martinez, Samantha Duval, Michael Louis Cusimano,
Rusty Ferracane & Elijah Rock

photos by Aaron Rumley

Desperate Measures
North Coast Repertory Theatre
987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive in Solana Beach
Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
ends on Feb 12, 2022
for tickets, call 858.481-1055 or visit North Coast Rep

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