Sunday, August 19, 2012

Measure for Measure: Spitzer performs Shakespeare

by Drew Martin
Yesterday I went with my parents to the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre at Drew University (great name for a school). We saw Measure for Measure, a "comedy" about pride and humility, and justice, mercy and truth: "Some rise by sin, and some by virtue fall."

In this "problem" play, the Duke of Vienna supposedly leaves the city but remains disguised as a Franciscan monk in order to observe the conduct of Angelo, who rules in his absence. Angelo condemns a young man to death for making love out of wedlock and then tries to make a deal with the man's sister; her virginity for her brother's freedom. The table turns when the Duke reveals his identity but allows Angelo to live if he marries a former fiance. "Measure for measure" is a line in the play but comes from the bible,

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Later in the day, I watched Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer on Netflix, which reminds us that Shakespeare's four hundred-year-old play is as timely as ever. Client 9 is a very slick film by Alex Gibney about how the power and influence that Spitzer earned for going after corrupt Wall Street big wigs was immediately and forever lost when he was exposed as a client of a prostitution ring. This documentary is intriguing, well-edited and full of candid interview moments with Spitzer who says his story is not a current event, but a Greek myth, like the tale of Icarus. In one exchange, he is asked what he learned about his wife after his exposure. He replies that the depth of her forgiveness is deeper than could ever be called for.

I am always surprised when art makes its way into a subject where I least expect it. In the very start of the film we are introduced to Hubert Waldroup, a painter who worked for an escort agency. He says that in New York, everyone is like some sort of animal; always hungry, always wanting to make more money, get more sex, date a prettier girl or a richer guy. He marvels at something he attributes to a "Chinese philosopher," that humans are hybrids between angels and animals, capable of great beauty and also destruction. Another reference to art is when Spitzer compares the inside of the Albany capitol building to M.C. Escher's impossible staircase. The performance artist Karen Finley also had a few interview moments. She describes Spitzer's acknowledgement and resignation as a "public performance of a private moment" and the trysts as an "ancient, unresolved cultural narrative."