Sunday, August 27, 2006

Oh Woe is Shylock's Lawn Furniture, Not to Mention His Eight-Track Tapes

Today I went to the Cal Shakespeare production of "The Merchant of Venice." It was ill-conceived, but I enjoyed it. If you are someone who likes Shakespeare enough to stick with him over the years, you *will* see quite a few performances, and you will see quite a few good performances and probably several excellent performances. That grants you patience with the sad, the bad, the woeful, the indifferent and -- as in the case of this particular MofV, the absolute train wreck.

But what kind of prissy old aesthete would you be if you didn't enjoy a train wreck?

I'm the 15-minute man, so I will just mention one aspect of the performance. Apparently, it features many multimedia elements, but they don't work at matinees because matinees take place during the day. It's too bright for the visual portion of the multimedia. We went to a matinee, and all of the visual multimedia elements were dispensed with. But not the main conceit of the last act, which depends on the visual portion of the multimedia. Unless I completely misunderstood what was going on, the nighttime last act consists of the final scene -- which is on videotape -- being projected on a number of large screens even as the cast mills around the stage -- except for Shylock who sits in the background in what looks like quite a comfy chair -- putting for sale signs on all the props. See, Shylock has been ordered to give up half of what he owes to the state, and the state is selling off his possessions.

Two things:

1) Since it was a matinee, the last act was not projected but neither was it acted. The audio component was played. This was not a good thing, since it amplified the simple fact that only two or three members of the cast had any business doing Shakespeare. Being loud and clear doesn't make you a good actor, but in the case of acting Shakespeare competently it is necessary even if it is not sufficient. I had to close my eyes to follow what was going, and I'm thinking: "People! Spit out the mush! Talk into the mike. Please!"

2) The notion of selling off Shylock's stuff while he sits on stage does keep him at the center of the play, but that's not where he belongs. Or to put it another way, he insinuates himself at the play's center with our complicity. Don't rub our noses in it as if we were a naughty dog -- or, worse, a stupid one. Arguably, Shylock seizes the play against the playwright's will (though never underestimate Shakespeare, man of the theater), but he seizes the play because of the alchemy of performance and the nature of the play as it is written, not because we imagine him sitting morosely at his palazzo being forced to go through a yard sale.

It's ludicrous, really. I mean, the props are sketchy and shabby, just as they should be.

They're props.

But when we are asked to take all this literally and to witness the putative heartbreak of his being forced to sell off his plastic chairs, his folding table, what looked like two souvenir lamps from Pisa and, sadly, his bubble machine....

Yes, Delmarva, Shylock apparently owns a machine that blows soap bubbles.

Just didn't work. Don't think it would have worked if the last act had been successfully projected. Oh. And at the very end the three couples that the play has managed to unite got on a big blue blowup mattress and simulated sex. And then Shylock took the plug out of the mattress and it deflated. The French had a word for this. Or was it the Greeks? Anyway, the word is:

Harry High School.

Or is it Hairy High School?

And will somebody please turn off the bubble machine?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There are loose floorboards on the front porch and some of the lights don't come on when the switch is flipped. And the smell. It's like an amusement park that went under in one of those decades with 19 before it. Dry rot and pigeon droppings. Rats in the wall fattening on stuff growing there. Clogged plumbing and bums dropping their pants to let fly on the dusty floors. You get the picture. I remember when this blog was ablaze with light and activity. Always a new party of people arriving with rosy, expectant faces. A hip combo played upstairs. Now it seems nobody comes anymore except me. It reminds me of one of those spooky places with a coffin in the basement with soil from the old country. Anybody home? Hell-ooo!