All that Glisters May Not be Gold, but Cardinal’s Merchant of Venice Is!

If my previous piece on Cardinal’s Merchant of Venice featuring an all-female cast seemed to be motivated by doubt, my review is only motivated by praise. Director Randy White and the talented cast of actors created a lively, thought provoking version of one of Shakespeare’s more problematic plays.

White’s choice of an all-female cast was very successful. On our way out of the show, my husband and I overheard two old men saying that it was a good show, but it was weird that the characters were all played by women. I completely disagree. At the beginning, I was hyper-aware that all of the people onstage were female, but soon I just saw the characters. Training with movement coaches helped the women physically embody masculinity. The 1920’s clothing and setting emphasized a certain androgyny. All of it was so natural, that I had to sometimes forcibly remind myself all the actors were women.

The cast was fantastic. I adored Yadira Correa’s brash and vulgar Gratiano, I fell in love with Caitlan Taylor’s Bassiano, and I laughed heartily at Nicole Bruce’s antics as Gobbo. They had an impressive and natural grasp of the Shakespearean text. I almost half expect to hear Leslie Ann Handelman (Portia) or Liz Pazik (Shylock) using perfect iambic pentameter while ordering beer and burgers after the show. Read more

With Mirth and Laughter: Randy White on Cardinal’s Merchant of Venice

While looking forward to Bloomington’s 2016-17 performance season, one particular performance intrigued me beyond all others: Cardinal’s Merchant of Venice featuring an all-female cast. I was as excited as I was concerned about this production. Gender-swapping is common practice in productions of Shakespeare, especially his cross-dressing comedies: As You Like It and Twelfth NIght. Like the heroines of those two plays, Portia, Nerissa, and Jessica all dress up “like fine bragging youth[s]” with “reed voices” and a “braver grace” (Act 3, Scene 4), but how would focusing on the issues of gender fluidity in the play impact the discussion of Jewishness and antisemitism? Would the gender issues overshadow the issues of Jewishness?

My consternation increased because the posters popping up all over town depicted the play as a quirky, fun comedy. While the play is considered to be a comedy (meaning it ends in marriage and in the creation of a new world more suited for lovers), many productions tend to deemphasize that aspect of the play in favor of the tragedy of Shylock. Last year, I saw a prime example of this at the Globe. Jonathan Price’s depiction of Shylock was so tragic. The play ended with an emotionally difficult conversion scene featuring Shylock crying as he professed his belief in a Catholic baptism and Jessica, his daughter, sobbing as she sang a Jewish song of mourning. This was far from a comedy.

With these thoughts swirling around in my brain, I met with Randy White, the production director of Merchant and Cardinal’s Artistic Director, to talk about his all-female, comedic version of the play. Of course I wanted to interview him for my blog, but I also hoped to get some further insight into a play that has always troubled me. I was not disappointed. Read more

The Benefits of Play: Why Bloomington Needs MCCT

This fall, the Monroe County Civic Theater celebrates their 30th anniversary of providing fun amateur entertainment and creating an inclusive space for people to try their hand at acting, directing, and writing plays. I had the pleasure of recently speaking to Yolanda Valdivia, the President of MCCT, about the organization, its past 30 years, and its plans for the future. During that discussion, I became very aware of why we need groups like MCCT.

Despite their longevity, the MCCT seems to typically hide just under the radar of those drawn to theater and performance arts. As Valdivia admits, “Even though MCCT has been around for 30 years, we are not really known.” They are a small, volunteer-run organization with a shoestring budget, so it is not too surprising that they are overshadowed by professional organizations like Cardinal, BPP, and IU Theater. Read more

My Cubicle; My Castle: A Review of the BPP’s 30-Day Mourning Period

Friday night, I saw the Bloomington Playwrights Project performance of 30-day Mourning Period: or the Revolution that Occurred When Mr. Clybourne Killed Himself and Thus was Unable to Come into Work Thursday Morning written by Hank Greene and directed by Joshua Carroll. I must admit that I am having a little difficulty writing about this play. Not because it is a bad play; I actually enjoyed it a lot. It’s also not because the play is too intellectually difficult. In many ways, it’s quite an easy play to understand. No, the difficulty lies in the very obvious ways we process the entertainment we see. The majority of theater goers, myself included, process their theater experience through their own personal history and emotions. For me, this play hits a lot of sensitive areas, but let’s deal with that in a moment.

First a little bit about the performance. The play takes place in the Minneapolis office of the Hamilton Media Company, a sales heavy, internet advertising agency. Read more

How to Enjoy Opera in One Easy Step: A Review of the BSO’s “Happily Ever After?”

As someone who loves art, theater, culture, and performance, I have always wanted to like opera. It’s not that I ever disliked opera, but I couldn’t tell you I liked it either. The reason being, I had—or thought I had—very little experience with that particular art form. With a limited budget and innumerable entertainment choices, I just never got around to trying out the opera.

I only watched my first full-length opera just last year; it was Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte or as it is commonly translated, “Women are like that.” The opera was a comedy about two lovers that decide to test their betrotheds’ fidelity by “going off to war,” returning dressed as soldiers, and wooing the other man’s fiancé. As a Renaissance theater person, I understand this trope; I don’t like it, but I understand it. The trope is terribly misogynistic, but certain playwrights have been known to challenge the inherent misogyny and thus add complexity to the discussions of gender and heterosexual relationships. Mozart’s opera, as far as I could tell, had very little complexity to question the inherent misogyny of the piece. In addition, neither the music nor the performance was really engaging enough to distract me from these issues. At the end of the evening, I remember thinking, “Ugh, maybe I am just not an opera person.”

However, thanks to the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra’s most recent concert, I have thoroughly changed my tune. Read more