Thursday, July 22, 2010

Show #36 "The Merchant of Venice" at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

For the serious theatre junkie, there is the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR. It is roughly the equivalent of going to Spring Training if you are a baseball junkie. Well, not quite, because at the OSF, we are not seeing dress rehearsals or auditions to see who makes the team.

We are watching the "real thing," and enjoying professional theatre to our heart's content. For me, this means that I have tickets to six shows in five days here in Ashland. Not a world record, by any means, but definitely a whirlwind of viewing.

My first stop on this marvelous journey is "The Merchant of Venice." This show is considered one of Shakespeare's more problematic plays. It is often passed over for production because it appears to be anti-Semitic. I am here in Ashland as part of a class, Shakespeare in Ashland, that prepares teachers to present Shakespearean literature to their students. It is my second year participating in this class.

And, like last year, I am the only non-teacher in the class. My perspective is a bit different than the other students' (and the instructor's) but thank God I have another actor in the class with me (kudos to Adam Othman for being here)!

I am also one of the only ethnic minority among the participants, so I think my perspective is colored by that as well. At least, it affected my opinion of this production of "Merchant."

As I have said in earlier posts, I believe theatre needs to be even-handed in poking fun or outright criticizing groups of people in society. This was a very even-handed and fair production.

We can't help that William Shakespeare created an "evil" character in Shylock, and continually told us he was a Jew. We can't help that his chief tormentors were identified as Christian. But, this production stayed true to Shakespeare's words, while taking both a critical and sympathetic view of people, whether they be Jew or Gentile, male of female or Venetian or Moroccan.

And, of course, the overall show was made even better with the admirable performances by the OSF troupe of actors and technicians. It is good to see the pros at work.

That is the primary reason I come all the way down to Ashland. These guys are good.

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