Measure for Pleasure: A Sex Farce That Embraces the Garters and Eschews the Politics
As a general (and by general I mean UNFLINCHINGLY STRICT) rule, I make sure to stay away from people and situations that might possibly be described as "deliciously naughty," a phrase that breaks down as follows: Erotic Stuff (– Sexiness) + Unfunny Jokes + Entendre ^ Infinity Corsets = BARF.
So imagine my dismay in discovering that Measure for Pleasure (a "deliciously naughty Restoration-romp-meets-modern-sex-farce") built an entire mighty citadel upon that bawdy, cinched, and buxom foundation. A citadel standing on the fact—undeniably true—that "Venus" rhymes with "penis." Indeed it does. 'Kay.
Sir Peter Lustforth (Paul Custodio) is your typical hangdog/horndog husband (enough with this fucking stale archetype, writers! Enough!)—his wife, like most wives, is fat and ugly and stanky. But she still tries to have sex with him! What a chore! Exacerbating his "blue, wrinkled balls," he pines after Hermione Goode (Colleen Robertson), a powdered and nubile thing who loves (I think?) a goateed raconteur named Dick Dashwood who faked his death (I forget why) to win her hand and now teaches Lady Lustforth (the aforementioned stanky cunt—their words, not mine) how to play the harpsichord. Meanwhile, Sir Lustforth's manservant Will Blunt (a Philip Seymour Hoffmany Zach Adair) has a thing for Molly (Alex Garnett—so darling!), a transvestite prostitute-turned-Lady Lustforth's maid.
Measure for Pleasure begins with flimsy things—boner jokes ("I must be firm." "You are, sir, therefore do not press your point"), pelvic thrusting, and half-hearted mistaken identities. The script takes a turn for the substantial in the second act, when the wigs come off and the cads get their comeuppance (kind of). The play is not funny. It is not sexy. But it has other charms. The cast goes for it with charming results, frequently rising above the boring/barfy script. Heather Hawkins is magnificent as Lady Lustforth, coming to terms with her self-deception, striking back at her husband's groundless cruelty, and ultimately, in the play's weakest plot point, forgiving the abusive piece of shit. And the slow-cooked romance between Will and Molly—the only pairing that carries any emotional weight—is commendable for its sweet, gender-upending frankness.
Measure for Pleasure doesn't go far enough. It almost has a point—an earnest postscript about the power of love and a (carefully neutral) breakdown of Referendum 71 in the program hint at a political agenda. But why just hint? Go ahead and have a political agenda! You know what had a political agenda? RESTORATION THEATER. You know what doesn't? A dick joke in a powdered wig.