The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0365  Monday, 11 June 2007

From: 		Robert Projansky <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>
Date: 		Friday, 8 Jun 2007 12:53:36 -0700
Subject: 	A Fresh Theatrical Concept

This news is from the ONION


Unconventional Director Sets Shakespeare Play in Time, Place Shakespeare 

MORRISTOWN, NJ-In an innovative, tradition-defying rethinking of one of 
the greatest comedies in the English language, Morristown Community 
Players director Kevin Hiles announced Monday his bold intention to set 
his theater's production of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice 
in 16th-century Venice.

"I know when most people hear The Merchant of Venice, they think 1960s 
Las Vegas, a high-powered Manhattan stock brokerage, or an 18th- century 
Georgia slave plantation, but I think it's high time to shake things up 
a bit," Hiles said. "The great thing about Shakespeare is that the 
themes in his plays are so universal that they can be adapted to just 
about any time and place."

According to Hiles, everything in the production will be adapted to the 
unconventional setting. Swords will replace guns, ducats will be used 
instead of the American dollar or Japanese yen, and costumes, such as 
Shylock's customary pinstripe suit, general's uniform, or nudity, will 
be replaced by garb of the kind worn by Jewish moneylenders of the 
Italian Renaissance.

"Audiences may be taken aback initially by the lack of Creole accents," 
Hiles said. "But I think if they pay close enough attention, they'll 
recognize that all the metaphors, similes, and puns remain firmly 
intact, maybe even more so, in the Elizabethan dialect."

Added Hiles: "After all, a pound of flesh is a pound of flesh, whether 
you're trying to woo a lady in 16th-century Europe, or you're a high 
school senior trying to impress your girlfriend with a limo ride to the 
prom, like in the last Merchant production MCP did in '95."

Though Hiles, 48, is a veteran regional- theater director with extensive 
Shakespeare experience, he said he has never taken such an 
unconventional departure. The Community Players' 1999 production of 
Othello was set during the first Gulf War, 2001's The Tempest took 
place on a canoe near the Bermuda Triangle, and last year's  "stripped- 
down," post-apocalyptic version of Hamlet presented the  tragedy in the 
year 3057.

Hiles said he became drawn to the prospect of setting the play in such 
an unorthodox locale while casually rereading the play early last year. 
He noticed that Venice was mentioned several times in the text, not only 
in character dialogue, but also in italics just before the first 
character speaks. After doing some additional research,  Hiles also 
learned that 16th-century Europe was a troubled and  tumultuous region 
plagued by a great intolerance toward Jews,  historical context which 
could serve as the social backdrop for the  play's central conflict.

"Even the names just sort of fell into place," said Hiles, who had been 
planning to center the play around an al-Qaeda terrorist cell before 
going with an avant-garde take. "Theater is about taking risks, and I'm 
really excited to meet this newest challenge."

Some of Hiles' actors, however, have reacted negatively to his decision. 
Some are worried Hiles lacks the knowledge and talent to pull off the 
radical revisionist interpretation, while others characterized it as 

"I guess it's the director's dramatic license to put his own personal 
spin on the play he is directing, but this is a little over-the-top," 
said Stacey Silverman, who played Nurse Brutus in Hiles' 2003 all- 
female version of Julius Caesar. "I just think Portia not being an 
aviatrix does a tremendous disservice to the playwright."

Added Silverman: "You just don't mess with a classic."

S H A K S P E R: The Global Shakespeare Discussion List
Hardy M. Cook, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
The S H A K S P E R Web Site <http://www.shaksper.net>

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