Sunday, August 14, 2016

Shylock's Beard by Cary Mazer

I had the opportunity to do something I haven't done in a long time-- I spent the evening with my old Penn Theatre professor Cary Mazer.  To be honest, I don't think I ever took a class with him.  But he was the department head of the Theater Dept. where I had a minor in Theater Arts, and I had met with him several times as I wrestled about what to do.

He was in Chicago because his play Shylock's Beard, won the ATHE award which comes with a script-in-hand production at the conference, which was held in Chicago this year.  I saw the play, and then afterwards Cary and I (and another former student Nora) went for a quick dinner that ended up lasting almost 2 and a half hours! (and by the way, that is Cary's beard to the left)

The play was quite good, and very clever.  It involves a Shakespearian professor who hates the play the Merchant of Venice, but agrees to dramaturg a production of it because the theatre needs somebody Jewish to be involved-- to be the "beard" to give them the moral ability to do the play without seeming anti-semitic. The play follows his travails as Shylock the character (and the archetype) becomes his obsession, and these ideas take over his real life as well as his imaginary life.

The play was very good, and I can imagine theatre companies picking this play up.  The three things I really liked about it:

1) Parallelism.  The parallels between the play and what happens in the main character's life are really well done.  They are not so overt, but they follow the play well. And the moments when they are highlighted are quite funny.

2) The Erasing of stories.  There's a really interesting development toward the end of the play where the character has the idea to write a play about his situation, and we the audience are made aware that it is this play.  But several of the characters ask not to be in the play, and suddenly some of the gaps in the play (especially between the main character and his wife) become quite clear.  The story we are hearing is the protagonist's story.  The other people's stories are delightfully out of focus.

3) Insider Baseball.  The play takes us inside two interesting environments: Rehearsing a play and academia.  Seeing the inside workings (a little bit of how the sausage is made) in both of those is always interesting

After the play, Cary and I and another student went out for a dinner, where we talked about a variety of things, including former teachers at Penn (Ilona Gerbner), teaching philosophies, personal stories, and much much more.  It was a wide ranging conversation, which only ended when they started turning on and off the lights.  It was a great time!

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