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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: February ::
F. Murray Abraham as Shylock and Barabas
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0099  Tuesday, 6 February 2007

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
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Date: 		Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Subject: 	F. Murray Abraham as Shylock and Barabas

The other day, New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood reviewed 
F. Murray Abraham's performances in The Merchant of Venice and The Jew 
of Malta.

http://theater2.nytimes.com/2007/02/05/theater/reviews/05merc.html?ref=arts

The Merchant of Venice and The Jew of Malta
By CHARLES ISHERWOOD
Published: February 5, 2007

Welcome, ladies and gents, to the Theater for a New Audience's smackdown 
between two of the most notorious villains of the Elizabethan stage, 
both on view at the Duke on 42nd Street. In this corner is F. Murray 
Abraham as Barabas, the vicious caricature of a vengeful businessman in 
Christopher Marlowe's rarely seen "Jew of Malta." In the other, who's 
this? Why, it's F. Murray Abraham once again, as mighty Will 
Shakespeare's infamous Jewish moneylender, Shylock, from "The Merchant 
of Venice."

Smart money would be on Barabas, whose status as a poisonous stereotype 
has largely relegated him to sober study in academia for at least a 
century. After all, this is a fellow whose body count in Marlowe's play 
outpaces that of even the most industrious leather-faced lunatics in 
slasher movies. "I walk abroad o' nights, and kill sick people groaning 
under walls," he boasts in a lighter moment, shortly before offing a 
whole convent of nuns. "Sometimes I go about and poison wells."

Shylock, by contrast, never even gets his pound of flesh. Shakespeare's 
unstoppable humanism transformed a stock villain - inspired in part by 
Marlowe's grotesque - into a man whose sufferings have evoked compassion 
in audiences since the actor Henry Irving rescued him from ugly rapacity 
in the late 19th century. In most productions today Shylock 
single-handedly transforms the romantic comedy surrounding him into a 
soul-searing tragedy.

And yet it is Shylock, in Darko Tresnjak's haunting production of "The 
Merchant of Venice," who proves to be the more unsettling of the two 
figures. In a performance as daring as it is powerful, Mr. Abraham 
delves into the shadowier recesses of Shylock's corrupted psyche, making 
him a little more sinister than sympathetic, sinning as much as sinned 
against.

Mr. Abraham's Barabas, on the other hand, in David Herskovits's antic 
postmodern production of "The Jew of Malta," comes across as a harmless 
cartoon, a baddie from an episode of "Scooby-Doo" hardly weighty enough 
to inspire much hand-wringing from the Anti-Defamation League. These 
strikingly contrasted portraits, showcasing in different keys the 
considerable talents of Mr. Abraham, are playing in repertory through 
March 11.

[ . . . ]

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