Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Managing Expectations

I went to see Merchant of Venice starring F. Murray Abraham (who is, by the way, not a Jew) as Shylock. The play by Director Tresnjak is stage in modern dress, with Wall Street replacing the Rialto of 16th century Venice. This device, which usually leaves me cold, was used imaginatively - with a bit of proselytizing on the side. The rich and the powerful have different rules that the ordinary folk - which they do, but theplay implies they are the cause of all evil. The comedic moments especially worked well with the modern setting, for example Portia's manservant, obviously gay, texting a potential crush or the three boxes being replaced by three Mac laptops and flat screen tvs.

As for the scene where Shylock gets sentenced, it was shocking and painful. Since this play is essentially a comedy (definition of a comedy = single people at the begining of the play, are paired at the end), there is a moment when Bassanio at the urging of Antonio (what's with Shakespeare and the homo eroticism?!) gives the ring to Portia (disguised as a man), a ring he swore to never part with. Several ladies setting near to me actually gasped. Yet remained completely silent when Shylock was humiliated and dehumanized a scene earlier. The contrast stuck with me. I guess romantic betrayal is more powerfully felt than unjust punishment.

Anyway, if you are in Boston for the next few days, don't miss it, Abraham is fantastic as Shylock.

(On a side note, the kippa that is ripped from Shylock head is left on the stage. When Abraham returned for curtain call, he picked up the kippa, kissed it, and put it on his head. I loved that.)

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