Theater Shylock steals the show, show blows the mood

August 5, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011
Posted by Matthew Schniper on Fri, Aug 5, 2011 at 4:16 PM

Great line from The Merchant of Venice:
God made him, and therefore let him pass for a man.

 

Matthew Schniper

Christopher Lowell (aka Ben Franklin) is tremendous as Shylock.

I caught TheatreWorks’ opening performance last night at Rock Ledge Ranch. Despite the mud, it was wonderful as always to be outdoors (well, in the tent) for Shakespeare in the park.

Roy Ballard’s set looked great, particularly the fine pattern cut and painted into the stage floor, which divided the audience in two and acted as a double-sided catwalk of sorts — though it was uncomfortably narrow at times.

And Ben Franklin impersonator (as well as former Fountain Valley School and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs teacher/professor) Christopher Lowell was terrific as Shylock, the negatively stereotyped greedy Jew.

The climactic courtroom scene that comes near the end of the play, which determines whether poor Antonio (Tom Paradise) loses a pound of flesh or not at Shylock’s hands, is alone worth paying to see. It’s about 10 minutes of perfect performance all-around, the only time in which I didn’t feel myself in my seat — absolutely riveting.

That’s the scene audience members will be talking about at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 24 (date changed from Saturday, Aug. 20) at the “Judaism on Stage” prologue.

But stepping back a bit, and looking at the overall costuming and staging of the play in 1920s Italy: I found it totally unnecessary, and would have preferred the true period costuming. Unlike the unique set design, it did nothing to add value to the show or stylize it in any way worth repeating.

The material used for the many of the men’s coats gave off a tacky sheen and they looked ill-fitted, while the pants also hung awkwardly and just didn’t seem right. Flapper dress = huh?

And the spontaneous Lindy Hop/swing dance that breaks out at the show’s conclusion, backed by fake money blown from overhead — greed as a theme, we get it — was just completely off-tenor.

Leaving the excellent courtroom scene, with such an emotional tone, and minutes later breaking out into dance for no apparent reason other than a convenient, happy ending … it felt like someone busted out an organ grinder and dancing monkey at a funeral. (“WTF is happening?”) I get that it’s a tragicomedy, but there’s enough lightheartedness built into the rest of the script that this ending simply isn’t necessary.

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