- Terelle Jerricks
By John Farrell, Theater Critic
Summer in Los Angeles means, amongst other things, free Shakespeare, and not just from San Pedro’s resident company Shakespeare by the Sea. There are performances in the San Fernando Valley, in the San Gabriel Valley and elsewhere, usually of two of the Bard’s plays: a comedy and a tragedy.
West Hollywood also gets into the act, but with a distinct, and very delicious differences, offering up Something of Silver, a musical written and directed by Tony Tanner that takes a more modern look at Shakespeare’s problematic comedy.
The problem is in the plot.
Shakespearean audiences were empathetic to Shylock, the Jewish moneylender who is forced to give up his fortune and convert to Christianity. He does this after his attempt at financial revenge on the eponymous merchant, the notorious “pound of flesh,” is determined to be illegal. But they certainly didn’t see him as the center of a play that was about the final happy uniting of three cheerful couples.
Shylock has moved to center stage in the last century, and it is hard to balance Shakespeare’s cheerful ending with Shylock’s passionate and pathetic “has not a Jew eyes?,” especially since the holocaust.
Tanner, whose fourth Shakespearean adaptation this is, solves some of the problem by toning down Shylock’s loss: no mention is made of his conversion and the pleasure he gets from his daughter’s marriage. And, his accession to his fortune, makes his loss less.
Robert Towers is this Shylock, a man apart from the others. He is dressed in the flowing gown and kippeh of a Jew: everyone else, in Debbie Bradford’s elegantly simple costumes, is dressed as though they were attending a boating party circa 1920. He is full of vengeance from the start: wanting to make a deal with Antonio (the rather stiff Bruce Katzman) that he hopes will turn out badly for the merchant.
The three pairs of lovers, Michael Harrison (Gratiano), Casey Ford Alexander (Lorenzo), and Stephen Good (Bassanio); and, on the distaff side Rachele Gueli (Nerissa), Molly Cookson (Portia) and Amanda Ives (Jessica) are willing to break conventions to get together.
Something of Silver is a musical and all the great moments — Portia’s “quality of mercy” soliloquy and Shylock’s “Hath not a Jew eyes” included — are rendered into song, a pleasant, if not particularly memorable, song. The lyrics, which include many modern references (to Dickens, for example) are witty and pointed. And, the play,simplified by the removal of several characters, is much less vitriolic.
Still, a defeat for Shylock, but not as bad as in the original, and a great victory for the lovers. Tanner directed this production and it is very simple indeed; just a thrust stage with a rail around the edge. But the actors, up close as they are, sing clearly and everyone makes sharp eye contact.
This production, presented by the Classical Theatre Lab, is less than perfect, but it makes a credible attempt to unknot Merchant of Venice, and does an entertaining job of it. Oh yes: there are plenty of interesting restaurants in the neighborhood, so you can make a day of it.
Admission is free. Reservations are recommended. Performances are at 5 p.m. July 21 , 22, 28 and 29, at Plummer Park; and at 4 p.m. Aug. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18 and 19, at Kings Road Park.
Details: (323) 960-5691; www.classicaltheatrelab.org
Venue: Plummer Park
Location: 7377 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood;
Venue: Kings Road Park
Location: 1000 N. Kings Rd., West Hollywood.