“Hath not a Jew… something?”

Over the holidays this past year, Jan and I had discussed that we would like to get to Stratford this season. I hadn’t gone in ages, and Jan and Rob had been living out of the province. We took a look at the site with this year’s fare, and saw that The Merchant of Venice was on the schedule. Hmm… Then we saw that Graham Greene was scheduled to play Shylock. Sold!

Additionally, Andrew’s birthday is August 3rd (I didn’t get a chance to blog a happy birthday, but I didn’t forget entirely…), and so we decided (with his agreement) to get tickets for that Friday and we would do dinner and the play. Delightful. We even splurged on the good tickets. w00t!

And so Play Day came, and off we headed to Stratford. We had dinner at Sapori’s, an Italian place recommended by Andrew’s parents (though his housemate said not to go there because she didn’t like the decor on the website… riiiight…) Dinner was very good. Their menu isn’t huge, and it’s quite simple, but what they do they do well. Throw in a couple of bottles of Chianto Classico and a fabulous tiramisu, and we were well sated.

The audience for the play was interestingly mixed. Quite a large number of teenagers (in various interpretations of what dressing up meant), and plenty of seniors. Not so many folks in the middle, like us.

Oh, and the wares in the gift shop, especially those relating to Oklahoma!, which is apparently getting rave reviews, were somewhat suggestive and rather kitschtastic. Heh.

So, the play… It opened with a rather… 80s spectacle. Rock music and choreographed dancing and shiny masks and… yeah. Honestly, it didn’t grab me.

And of course we were introduced to the costuming, which no one else seemed to hate as much as I did. (Sherry had seen the same play a couple of weeks before with a friend.) They were going for a sort of slightly retro couture look combined with high Renaissance. It was awful. Though the gold velvet knee breeches with a grey hoodie kind of amused me. The high 80s bubble skirts on the women’s costumes… oy vey. Anyway, I thought they didn’t work and were distracting, which is precisely what they shouldn’t be.

There were quite a few younger cast members, and it was fairly obvious that not everyone had an ear (yet?) for Shakespeare. Granted, some of them started out a bit stilted and smoothed out, but it made it hard to get into the flow of things. (I freely admit that I’ve never been a huge Shakespeare fan, so it takes me a while to get into the flow of the language.)

Portia (Severn Thompson) seemed to old for my taste, though it was just… something about the actress, not her physically being too old, I think. And Antonio (Scott Wentworth) actually was considerably older than his “friends” (and he looked like the love child of Al Pacino and Sean Penn). I realize he needs to be somewhat older to be established in business and all that, but you need to balance that with the fact that his friends are basically a bunch of frat boys.

In the performance Sherry attended, Portia left the play at intermission, and was replaced by the actress playing Jessica (Sara Topham), and Jessica’s understudy took her part. I am glad that didn’t happen, because I can see how it wouldn’t have worked at all. (She’s much too young, and I can see how her apparent gravitas-adding head-shaking would be distracting and odd.)

I did appreciate the use of some serious camp in various parts of the play. As the programme reminded me, TMoV IS one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Easy to forget that these days, though, since the play is generally staged to be politically correct and show How Bad Anti-Semitism Is. Unlikely most folks are going to laugh at an un-PC Jew joke, you know?

However, the camp applied to Portia’s various suitors, for example, was visual and fun and ridiculous, just as it should be. (I contend that Shakespeare is like Disney movies — they’re made on a variety of levels from the sight gag to the satirical so that there are levels for all the different types of audience members.)

Anyway, about the best thing I can say about the play is that it was inconsistent. I did like the ending, which was significantly simpler and “quieter” than most of the play. However, Graham Greene flubbed the “Hath not a Jew…” speech, and I thought Portia’s “The quality of mercy…” speech was terribly flat. And given that those are two of the key parts of the play… yeah.

That said, even with rave reviews, I think I’ll still give Oklahoma! a pass. Saw it in high school, and I can only handle so much unbridled perkiness. 🙂

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