For me, there are few things more rewarding than losing myself in the lively action and joyous laughter of a well-staged, well-crafted play. When done right, an enjoyable play can make the troubles and anxieties of the everyday just melt away. Right now, Indiana University Summer Theater gives not one but two opportunities to forget our cares and throw ourselves into another world with Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Jane Austen’s Persuasion (adapted for the stage by Jennifer LeBlanc).
During the month of July, Indiana University Summer Theater presents two shows in the repertory style. Typically during the school year, productions are staged one at a time allowing the actors, directors, and assistants to focus on one individual production before moving on to another. Each production typically features a unique cast, crew, staging, and scenery. Repertory theater, on the other hand, is a form of theater where the cast and crew keep a stock or repertoire of shows prepped and always ready for performance.
For IU’s summer theater, this means that one group of actors prepares two different shows, and they alternate performing one then the other for three weeks. The audience may only be vaguely aware that something is a little different. They have the opportunity to see a wider variety of plays in a shorter amount of time. Sometimes they can see two different plays in one day. Audiences may also notice familiar faces as the actors from yesterday’s Love’s Labour’s Lost perform in today’s Persuasion. Read more
It’s the Friday after the Cubs won the World Series. “I’m wearing Cubbie blue,” the text reads as I am walking the last few blocks to the coffee shop where I am supposed to meet Liz Pazik, Shylock from Cardinal’s Merchant of Venice.
I chuckle. “Well she is from Chicago,” I think to myself. I knew about the Cubs win; how could I not? Every form of media was inundated with Cubs frenzy. Friends I didn’t even know liked baseball were showing their Cubbie pride. While I grew up in a house full of baseball fans, my relationship with the sport is distant at best. I understood their excitement, but I was not part of it.
At the coffee shop, Liz’s Cubbie shirt, coat, and phone case made her stand out in the sea of student chic (the typical garb of any Bloomington coffee house crowd). She turned towards me, tears in her eyes. “I’m watching my Cubbies celebrate.” Liz is not just a Cubs fan; she is a super-fan from a family of Cubs fans. Her Cubbie love is almost genetic, and it was so infectious. As I listened to her talk about trips to Wrigley Field with her grandfather, the series games she watched with her cast mates, and the celebration parade in Chicago, I was sucked in. She made me not only understand her excitement, but her total immersion and investment in that moment made me feel (even if for just that little bit) like part of her Cubbie blue world.
In that moment, I realized just how much she had given up for being here in Bloomington. I almost felt bad for pulling her away from the Cub’s celebration to talk about Shylock. Yet that same immersion and investment was evident as she spoke about her relationship with theater, Shakespeare, and Shylock. Read more
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