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Home :: Archive :: 2010 :: July ::
Pacino as Shylock in the Park
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 21.0274  Sunday, 11 July 2010

[1]  From:      Mari Bonomi <
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     Date:      July 8, 2010 10:49:09 AM EDT
     Subj:      NYT Review of Pacino as Shylock in the Park

[2]  From:      Hardy M. Cook <
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     Date:      Sunday, July 11, 2010        
     Subj:      Pacino as Shylock in the Park
 
[3]  From:      David Basch <
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     Date:      Friday, July 9, 2010 10:15 AM
     Subj:      My Letter in the Wall Street Journal

[4]  From:      Hardy M. Cook <
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     Date:      Sunday, July 11, 2010        
     Subj:      Your Letter in the Wall Street Journal
 

[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Mari Bonomi <
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Date:         July 8, 2010 10:49:09 AM EDT
Subject:      NYT Review of Pacino as Shylo
ck in the Park

http://tinyurl.com/3xxwr3r

The 2-online-page review is very flattering, both of the production
and Pacino himself. There also is a video clip of Pacino doing the
"hath not a Jew" speech. I found it worked for me.

Side note: I've seen Pacino onstage at Long Wharf in New Haven, doing
a 1-act that's essentially a monologue, "Hughie" by O'Neill (this was
1996). I expected a "movie star" but saw a fine onstage performer.

I wish I were able to get to NYC to see this Shakespeare in the Park 
production!

Side note #2: Hamish Linklatter, the Bassanio in this production, was
one of the most moving (albeit perhaps "too young") Hamlets I've seen,
also at Long Wharf in 2004.

Mari Bonomi

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:         Sunday, July 11, 2010        
Subject:      Pacino as Shylock in the Park 

Washington Post.com <http://www.washingtonpost.com>

'Merchant of Venice': Al Pacino's Shylock is a moving take on an
immovable man
By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 2010; C05

NEW YORK -- Does anyone assume the posture of immovable maverick more
persuasively than Al Pacino? In a line from Serpico to Kevorkian, Pacino
has made a career of projecting the essences of men who ferociously
stake out causes and dig in their heels. Some element of their intensity
-- whether because of their sense of justice or self-involvement --
naturally invigorates this actor, whose characters never seem more alive
than at the moment the world makes them pay for their intransigence.

Now he's at it again, portraying one of the stubbornest, most isolated
and cruelly treated figures in all of Shakespeare -- Shylock the
moneylender -- in the Public Theater's sterling new staging of "The
Merchant of Venice." Under the stars in Central Park's Delacorte
Theater, director Daniel Sullivan imagines Venice as a gilded jail, a
society defined by circular, concentric cages and the idea that
everything and everyone in them has a price.

It's a universe of hypocrisy, and no one sees the irony more fully than
Pacino's gritty, hangdog Shylock, who's only too happy to remind Antonio
(Byron Jennings) -- the merchant who shows up with hand outstretched for
a loan -- that his more usual greeting is to "spit upon my Jewish
gabardine." The notion of a two-faced gentile establishment gets under
this Shylock's skin. And it gives a moral weight to Pacino's fine
performance that is sustained all the way through the famous courtroom
scene, when the disguised Portia (the wonderful Lily Rabe) outwits him
in his quest to take from Antonio his contractual pound of flesh.

Though "The Merchant of Venice" is frequently categorized by scholars as
one of Shakespeare's comedies, its anti-Semitic characters -- the way,
for instance, the word "Jew" is used by them as an epithet -- make it
impossible for us to see how the work can be grouped with "As You Like
It." It does boast some pointed satire in the wooing of moneybags Portia
by her effete suitors, required to solve the riddle of the gold, silver
and lead chests. But we can't help but think of Shylock's humiliation,
no matter how repugnant his court case, as something other than the
stuff of comedy.

Sullivan clearly thinks so, too, for while this "Merchant" by no means
casts this Shylock as a good man, it offers the most compelling argument
I've ever seen for him as neither hero nor villain: just a man driven to
the edge by torturous grievance. Pacino played the character in a 2004
movie, but the stage portrayal cuts deeper. It's this actor's genius
that he can make the demand for a surgical removal of a chunk of Antonio
sound almost reasonable. That Shylock takes a taste for vengeance too
far -- and that Venice exacts its own excessive justice in return -- is
his tragedy, as well as the city's.

To help us see this, the director has invented a scene, shocking in its
way: After the judges consult with Antonio on a punishment for Shylock,
a conversion to Christianity, we are privy in this version to the
judgment being carried out. A pool of water is uncovered on designer
Mark Wendland's superb set of revolving metal bars. Pacino is led into
it for his baptism, and the dunking is a violent spasm, as if the
attendants want to drown him instead. Dazed, Pacino gropes in the dark
for the skull cap that has been taken from him and thrown aside. He
touchingly places it back on his soaked head, chastened but not really
changed.

All, in fact, is ruefulness here. Portia's battle with Shylock, waged
out of love for Antonio's friend Bassanio (Hamish Linklater), accords
her a hollow victory. She and her lady-in-waiting (Marianne
Jean-Baptiste) discover afterward that their mates are not quite the
steady customers that they had previously seemed. In Rabe's distressed
countenance the question appears to arise: Why did she bother? The
morning-after doubts are reflected, too, in the air of regret enveloping
Shylock's daughter Jessica (Heather Lind), who runs off with a Christian
(Bill Heck) and some of her father's money.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         David Basch <
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Date:         Friday, July 9, 2010 10:15 AM
Subject:      My Letter in the Wall Street Journal

Dear Hardy:

For your information and submission to our list is a copy of my letter that
appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday (7.8.10). I wrote it as a
response to a photograph of the production of the Merchant of Venice this
week in Central Park, NY, that revealed that the characterization of
Shylock ran counter to what Shakespeare told about this in the play's
dialogue.

============================

Wall Street Journal -
LETTERS - JULY 8, 2010

RECOGNIZING SHYLOCK ON THE STREET

The photo of the staging used in Terry Teachout's article commenting on the
Daniel Sullivan/Al Pacino production of "The Merchant of Venice" calls into
question the interpretation of the play ("Knocking Shakespeare Out of the
Park," Entertainment and Culture, July 2).

Shylock is shown wearing a yarmulka and tzitzis (fringes), thereby given a
Jewish stage persona, while a suspender-wearing Antonio is shown seated.
How then does Mr. Sullivan make sense of the line spoken by the
male-disguised Portia upon entering the courtroom? Brought before the two
litigants, neither of whom she had met before, she asks: "Which is the
merchant here, and which the Jew?"

In other words, the two are indistinguishable and she needs to ask the
question. But if Al Pacino's Shylock showed up in the get-up used in Mr.
Sullivan's production, there would have been no need for the question
supplied by author Shakespeare.

This very line gives the lie to productions that cast Shylock as an
outlandish, stereotypical Jewish character. The point here is that Shylock
looks like everyone else. All male Elizabethans wore hats in public and in
private, and Shakespeare means to show by this that the devilishness which
others see in him is brought about by their biased expectations of a Jew.

This was the insight brought out in Abraham Morevski's book, "Shylock and
Shakespeare," originally written in Yiddish about 100 years ago and which
revealed a profound understanding of the play, ignored ever since, although
the book was translated into English in 1937. Critics have preferred a vile
Shylock and an anti-Semitic Shakespeare, even at the cost of making a
mockery of Shakespeare and his play.

David Basch

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:         Hardy Cook <
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Date:         Friday, July 9, 2010 4:24 PM
Subject:      Re: My Letter in the Wall Street Journal

Dear David,
 
One of the problems that I have had with your submissions to the list over 
the years has been that your underlying critical position seems to be that 
there is ONE and ONLY ONE meaning of the works and that you have figured out 
this meaning and thus that everyone else who offers an interpretation that 
is inconsistent with yours is WRONG. Consequently, your submissions 
frequently come off as condescending. For example, in your note to me you 
write. "I wrote it as a response to a photograph of the production of the 
Merchant of Venice this week in Central Park, NY, that revealed that the 
characterization of Shylock ran counter to what Shakespeare told about this 
in the play's dialogue." Certainly, one possibility based upon the dialog 
would be to have the two as indistinguishable. Since it was against the laws 
of England to practice Judaism at the time of Shakespeare, ostensibly one 
might argue that there were legally no Jews in Shakespeare's England unless 
they were assimilated and had been baptized into the Church of England. I am 
less clear about the situation in Italy, but again my understanding is that 
Jews of the time would not have worn a yarmulka and tzitzis and would likely 
been relatively indistinguishable from gentiles. However, historicity is not 
the matter, but matter is that of directorial choice to argue an 
interpretation. Your last phrase - "counter to what Shakespeare told about 
this in the play's dialogue" -- implies that there is one way to see the 
production and you know it rather than taking into account that a director 
may INTERPRET the play by staging it in NAZI Germany or Imperial Rome and 
costuming according to make particular points -- that is, perhaps the 
director WANTED us to recognize Shylock as a "stereotypical" Jew and WANTED 
us to think that Portia's comment is irrelevant. Maybe the director WANTED 
us to view Shylock in such a manner in order to provide a REASON for his 
behavior toward Antonio as implied in the Washington Post review that I 
quote below.
 
>Sullivan clearly thinks so, too, for while this "Merchant" by no means
>casts this Shylock as a good man, it offers the most compelling argument
>I've ever seen for him as neither hero nor villain: just a man driven to
>the edge by torturous grievance. Pacino played the character in a 2004
>movie, but the stage portrayal cuts deeper. It's this actor's genius
>that he can make the demand for a surgical removal of a chunk of Antonio
>sound almost reasonable. That Shylock takes a taste for vengeance too
>far -- and that Venice exacts its own excessive justice in return -- is
>his tragedy, as well as the city's.
 
I think that perhaps the principal reason that I have problems with your 
submissions is that I think like a person of the theatre and you think as a 
Talmudic scholar. I think in terms of POSSIBILITIES and you think in terms 
RIGHT/WRONG, TRUE/FALSE, and so on. As a theatre person, I am interested in 
theatrical possibilities and I do NOT believe that there is only one way to 
present the play script on the stage.
 
Hardy



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