Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I went to a lecture with F Murray Abraham, who is currently playing both Shylock and Barrabas (The Jew of Malta) at the Theater for a New Audience. It is impossible to get tickets and apparently, his Shylock rocks. So the next best thing is to go see him interviewed by a Shakespeare scholar at the New York Public Library. For those of you who have no clue who I am talking about, the man is famous for his portrayal of Antonio Salieri in the movie Amadeus by Milos Forman. He won an Oscar, justly so, for it.
1. F is looking great. He has enormous charisma. He looks better now than when he was younger.
2. He has a booming, magnificent voice. He sounds like he is on sensurround. He is an AC-TOR.
3. He is very actory, but charming and extraordinarily energetic. I wish I could get a freaking ticket for the damn play.
I was hoping, that this, being a conversation in the Public Library, with a renowned Shakespeare scholar, would be an interesting exploration of the Merchant of Venice, quite an incendiary, problematic play.
Instead, even though it was extremely entertaining, we were subjected to what always happens nowadays in the presence of celebrity: mostly banal repartee and gushing admiration from the interviewer, countered by false modesty and coyness from the interviewee. But what was more interesting was the elephant in the room, which everybody kind of skirted around, which was the issue of the antisemitism of the play. Both plays, actually, because Marlowe's The Jew of Malta is supposed to be even worse, and with none of the redeeming graces of Shakespeare's genius.
F was great because he spoke of what he knew as an actor. He identified with Shylock as an outsider, a man tired of being mistreated. He spoke of how he got to embody the part, of certain details that make him imagine things.
But the Shakespeare scholar didn't do his homework, in my view. He mainly gushed. If you have one of those rare creatures in attendance (a Shakespeare scholar) wouldn't you like him to explain stuff?
Luckily, and for a change, the audience asked good questions and deepened the debate a little bit.
But nobody spoke of what always leaves audiences pondering: is it a really antisemitic play, is it not antisemitic, is it ambiguous, what is Shakespeare's purpose?
I would have loved to hear some of that.

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