For its bizarre premise alone, Isabella, Pig Iron Theatre's take on Measure for Measure, is worth the ample effort the company invests in it - Shakespeare's tormented comedy stripped down, performed largely in his words and in the nude.
That's Isabella, superficially. But as it progresses, not always steadily, the Bard's words and plot acquire an eerie meaning. Isabella begins to explore mortality and the afterlife, and it becomes a tableau of alive minds over dead matter.
Lights come up on a morgue, occupied by the usual bodies and a mortician's attendant (Charles Conwell, wonderfully understated). He uncovers a dead woman and is mesmerized by her.
He slowly pulls shrouds from others. Eventually, he begins quoting Measure for Measure, assigning bodies different characters, speaking for them, propping them on gurneys, moving lifeless appendages for emphasis. Awkwardly, the corpses arise. Unsure of their body parts, they hobble to portray their roles.
Isabella laments "I have a brother who is condemned to die!" or a character talks of "better times to come," and the lines pack new punches.
The play doesn't work throughout. After coming to terms with its grotesqueness - many (not me) find it frequently funny - I decided it had nowhere to go; the 85-minute one-act's middle drags. Then Shakespeare deals with death, and Isabella whopped me again.