Don’t pass over
Through Nov. 11
Orlando Shakespeare Theater
Jews may monopolize the list of big machers in the modern mass media, at least according to a recent Vanity Fair. But for the millennia between Moses and The Jazz Singer, strong Jewish portrayals in mainstream literature were scarcer than ham sandwiches at a Seder. The few that existed are tainted by prejudice, with the villain of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice as chief example. Everyone remembers vengeance-obsessed Shylock, but what about Tubal, the “wealthy Hebrew” friend who furnishes 3,000 ducats for Antonio to stake his pound of flesh against? Steven Patterson, a voluble thespian essaying the only other Jewish male in the Bard’s canon, is a bit bitter because he only gets eight lines – as he frequently reminds us. Fortunately, he doesn’t let that stop him from presenting not only the complete Merchant tale, but a fascinating in-depth history of the play itself.
Shylock, a one-man show written and directed by Gareth Armstrong, is perhaps the most entertaining master’s thesis I’ve ever seen on stage. The first act backgrounds the historical context behind the Jew-free England of Shakespeare’s age, from the 1190 York proto-pogrom through King Edward I’s 1290 edict of eviction. Act two explores the evolution of Shylock onstage, affording Patterson an “excellent excuse for overacting” in re-creating the acting styles of legendary hams from Richard Burbage to Charles Macklin. We are finally brought to the 20th century with a stark reminder of the horrors born from ancient anti-Semitic blood libels: Hitler was a big Merchant of Venice fan.
Though it delves into deep topics, Shylock never gets too heavy, thanks to Armstrong’s fluid direction and Patterson’s engaging delivery (greatly assisted by Eric T. Haugen’s cinematic lighting). And between the footnotes, they find time to fit in fine renditions of some of the Bard’s best speeches. The play is neither apologia nor indictment, but rather a sober celebration of the problematic play’s possibilities. By turns funny, thought provoking and haunting, this dramatic lesson is worth attending whether you’re a member of the tribe or not.
— Seth Kubersky
Slow start, big finish
Orlando Ballet Pops
Orlando Ballet offered a “buy one, get one” ticket special, but still the house wasn’t full for last Saturday’s season debut. Orlando Ballet Pops, a compilation of four popular pieces, began with “Shake It Up,” a vehicle for hit songs by the Cars, and the flashback didn’t stop with “My Best Friend’s Girl.” Orlando Ballet’s artistic director, Bruce Marks, choreographed the piece in 1988, and the moves exuded ’80s cheese. Professional dancers playing air guitar across their legs were as out of date as the monochromatic costumes. Thankfully, the program moved forward as the evening progressed.
After intermission, Chiaki Yasukawa and Nobuyoshi Okada performed “Inscape,” Marks’ contemporary duet. (The dancers were changed out for other performances.) Marks calls it a killer of a seven-minute slugfest about a couple that can’t get together and can’t stay apart. “The Envelope,” a piece by David Parsons, comically united the dancers against an unruly piece of stationary; the dancers all wore black with hoods and sunglasses, as they scurried after the peculiar paper.
The evening closed with “Celts,” choreographed by Lila York. This impressive finale combined step-dancing and ballet en pointe for a Riverdance ballet of sorts. The entire company together onstage wowed the audience with skill and technique. Leaps, turns, and lifts appeared effortless, and just when you thought it was over, they thew in another finale, earning two standing ovations.
— Lizzie Fredrick
Still room for surprise
Through Oct. 21
St. Vincent’s Academy
In the annals of theater history, warhorses like A Chorus Line and Phantom of the Opera are mere babes compared to Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap. A resident of the West End since 1952, the show has racked up more than 22,800 performances and is still counting. Fifty-five years after its debut, the fledgling Greater Orlando Actors’ Theatre (GOAT) has brought Christie’s classic drawing-room whodunit to town with its traditional “don’t reveal the ending” audience admonishment intact.
Mollie and Giles Ralston (Kimberly Luffman and David Strauss) have turned their inheritance into Monkswell Manor, a quaint countryside inn catering to Londoners. On opening weekend, a British blizzard strands them with an assortment of eccentric guests, including an overly familiar furniture freak (Glen Howard), an evasive androgen (Sarah Lockard) and a monocular melodrama villain (Kevin Sigman). Enter Detective Trotter (Daniel J. Petrie) on “whacking great” skis, schussing in to warn the assembled that they harbor a murderer in their midst. When the bodies start dropping, the survivors are left to suss out who among them is the “Three Blind Mice”-whistling strangler.
Director Larry Stallings has wisely filled his cast with familiar faces from Theatre Downtown and Playwrights’ Round Table, but he stumbles in finding a consistent tone, wobbling indecisively between tension-filled thriller and Pythonesque parody. Luffman and Petrie play it straight, investing in the plot twists with credible emotions and accents. Meanwhile, Howard and Sigman earn laughs by being so deliciously broad that they might as well have red herrings hanging around their necks. Many of the rest of cast fall into the uncanny valley between character and caricature. Despite the missteps, there’s solid effort on display here, so I’ll be looking out for GOAT’s Wally Dugan’s Holiday Revue this December.