Shy­lock takes on new shades in to­day’s world

THE­ATRE

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

SHY­LOCK

Writ­ten by Mark Leiren-young. Di­rected by Sherry J. Yoon. Pro­duced by Bard on the Beach. On the Howard Fam­ily Stage on Thurs­day, Septem­ber 7. Con­tin­ues to Septem­ber 15

Even in 1996, when Mark Leireny­oung’s 2 Shy­lock de­buted at Bard on the Beach, the term po­lit­i­cally cor­rect was more of­ten an in­sult than a com­pli­ment, de­spite all of the peo­ple gen­uinely at­tempt­ing to dis­en­gage them­selves from or chal­lenge racism, sex­ism, ho­mo­pho­bia, and other forms of op­pres­sion. The “PC po­lice” were in­suf­fer­able nags ru­in­ing ev­ery­thing be­cause they couldn’t take a joke or un­der­stand con­text.

Shy­lock is a one-man show about a Jewish ac­tor, Jon Davies (an im­pres­sive Warren Kim­mel), whose per­for­mance of the tit­u­lar char­ac­ter in Shake­speare’s Mer­chant of Venice draws the wrath of an an­gry pro­fes­sor who ac­cuses him of anti-semitism and calls for a boy­cott of the play. We’re told about how her out­rage ral­lied oth­ers to the point that the pro­duc­tion stooped to of­fer­ing nightly talk­backs af­ter ev­ery show, and even­tu­ally pick­eters showed up, lead­ing to the Mer­chant of Venice’s early can­cel­la­tion. Frus­trated by what he per­ceives as bow­ing down to cen­sor­ship, Davies stages his own talk­back to ad­dress the con­tro­versy.

As Shy­lock pro­gresses, the ex­plo­ration of anti-semitism and Jewish his­tory is fas­ci­nat­ing, but all of that ends up tak­ing a back seat be­cause ev­ery five or 10 min­utes, there’s an­other ref­er­ence to how “no­body will ever have to be of­fended again.”

The char­ac­ter of the pro­fes­sor is such a car­toon of out­rage that there’s never any real sense that Davies takes her se­ri­ously, par­tic­u­larly be­cause he in­ter­prets her suc­cess­ful shut­down of Mer­chant as the be­gin­ning of the end for all “great” art that hap­pens to be prob­lem­atic. His slip­pery-slope panic imag­ines a fu­ture where ev­ery­thing is banned. This faux hand-wring­ing is frus­trat­ingly fa­mil­iar, and smug dis­missals, false equiv­a­len­cies, and ill-ad­vised con­tem­po­rary tweaks abound. Davies calls talk­backs “nightly apolo­gies” and “safety nets so no one gets trig­gered”. He ca­su­ally shrugs off con­cerns about “im­proper pro­noun us­age”, in­vokes Don­ald Trump, and uses phrases like “the sen­si­tiv­ity po­lice”. If one spends 90 min­utes com­plain­ing about sen­si­tiv­ity, who is the overly sen­si­tive one?

Twenty-one years af­ter Shy­lock’s de­but, there is, ar­guably, an even sharper di­vide be­tween those who chal­lenge and con­front sys­tems of op­pres­sion and those who up­hold them. In con­flat­ing the pro­fes­sor’s boy­cott with safe spa­ces, trig­ger warn­ings, and pro­noun pref­er­ence, Shy­lock passes on an op­por­tu­nity to con­tend with a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to the con­ver­sa­tion. Imag­ine an al­ter­nate ver­sion of this play that isn’t about de­fend­ing Shake­speare’s artis­tic value—that’s been es­tab­lished, he’s fine, we’re at Bard on the Beach, which is very suc­cess­ful—and in­stead chal­lenges the sys­tems of white supremacy that have gone into de­ter­min­ing what is and is not “im­por­tant” art for hun­dreds of years.

> AN­DREA WARNER

The Mer­chant of Venice,

Warren Kim­mel is im­pres­sive in the one-man show about a Jewish ac­tor fac­ing the shut­down of Tim Mathe­son photo.

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