Man, believe it or not, I actually get to post about really really good
theater today! That being Theater for a New Audience's production of Merchant of Venice
, which obopolsk
and I went to see via magic-four-dollar-tickets last night. Merchant
is definitely not my favorite play - is there anyone whose favorite play it is? I'm really curious about this, actually; I think it's really interesting
, but a near-impossible play to love - but this was the kind of production that reminds you why the problem plays are really, really worth it to stage, and overall just some of the best Shakespeare I've seen in a really long time. The attention to detail in the production was just fantastic. Anti-Semitism obviously still takes the main stage, but the direction and the choices deliberately highlighted a lot of the other issues that many productions try to skim over. Some things that impressed me:
- the setting of the play is modern or near-future, and the entire set of Antonio's friends (including Bassanio, Lorenzo and Gratiano) were played as exactly
the kind of smarmy status-obsessed financial district fratboys that you run into everywhere
in New York. Seriously, I felt like I went to college with some of these guys.
- Nerissa was played by a black actress, and during all the scenes with the Prince of Morocco, it's Nerissa you're watching - and her silent reaction when Portia tosses off her line about "let all of his complexion choose me so" is pretty gutting
- . . . except for the times when you're watching Balthasar's hilarious silent flirtation with the Prince of Morocco's bodyguard. The dude who played Balthasar was a complete scene-stealer, by the way. He had like two lines in the whole play and my eyes were on him every time
he was on stage just to appreciate the glory of his patiently long-suffering face. But anyway, I mention that flirtation especially because . . .
- this was definitely a much more explicitly queer production than I expected! I mean, Merchant of Venice
is already a textually slashy play, and this production had the slash ramped up to ELEVEN, and the part that really impressed me is how very deliberately they did that, and without making it a joke - Portia's face when Bassanio kisses Antonio during the trial scene packs almost as much of a punch as Nerissa's during the Prince of Morocco scene. The end definitely does not heteronormatize the play, and resolves nothing.
- on a different note, Jessica's actress did a really amazing job of showing her emotional conflict throughout the whole show. You could see the tension in her whenever she was onstage, and none of her scenes with Launcelot were played for comedy.
- Which isn't to say it wasn't a funny production! I was laughing out loud through a lot of it (and not just at Balthasar, although, may I say again: SCENE-STEALER.) But it was funny in the way Merchant
should be funny, where the comedy is always balanced on that uncomfortable knife-edge that might slice into you at any moment.
- Okay, this has nothing to do with any serious issues at all, but just in terms of staging, a bunch of the scenes where someone calls in their buddy or partner or whatever and has a conversation with them and then sends them away again were conducted via cell-phone. This is something I've never
seen in a modernized Shakespeare before, which in retrospect I find shocking. Why don't more productions do this? It works so well!
- Relatedly, I would like to buy the costume designer a drink. So many excellent details! The fake moustaches! Bassanio's tie!
Lorenzo and Jessica standing around awkwardly in bathrobes during the super awkward final scene!
Ahhhh I was going to segue from here into a booklogging post about some plays I have read recently, but it seems I have spent too long talking about Merchant of Venice
so I will end it up here and save that post for later. I did not expect to have so many feelings about this play! But basically, I am pretty sure that this production is going to be the one that any other will have to beat, for me - and if you're in NYC and have a free night over the next week or so, I would definitely suggest it is worth your while to check the production out. (It's here until March 13th! You still have time!)