Tradition

Jun. 6th, 2010 05:21 pm
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
[personal profile] liv
So my local community don't quite have the confidence or the skills to run Saturday morning services. I planned a trial Saturday morning service for this weekend, and got some students involved. And it went really well; the first time they've had a normal Shabbat service in over a decade, maybe several decades (I got somewhat mixed reports). But anyway, we had a good turnout and everything went smoothly, and I managed to give people chances to be called up to the Torah and otherwise take active parts in the service, when it was a pretty big deal for them for various reasons.

There seemed to be general enthusiasm for trying to make this a regular event; I'm thinking once a term or possibly once a month if I'm feeling ambitious. And nobody was offended by my doing part of the service in English, or reading the Torah Ezra-style with a running translation (ably assisted by AF). So yes, generally successful.

Just for contrast, I spent this afternoon at a performance of The Merchant of Venice. It was a student production, and I got suckered into buying a ticket by one of the medical students, who was playing the role of Antonio. I managed to convince AF to join me, though he shared my qualms about seeing this particular play. (He's also more visibly Jewish than I am, and thought he might make the actors nervous by sitting in the audience wearing his yarmulke.)

Anyway, the play was a lot of fun, as well as being disturbing (I think it would be worrying to see a production of Merchant that wasn't at least a bit disturbing!) The students gave very good performances, very physical and speaking their lines with conviction. Considering it was an open-air production, they did particularly well at making their lines perfectly audible. Portia was less good on that score, but she seemed to be nursing a bad cold, and her acting was good even if her diction was not quite up to scratch.

They played it absolutely straight, not following the trend of a lot of modern productions of trying to make Shylock sympathetic; he was an out-and-out melodramatic villain. His performance was very good, though for my personal opinion, giving the character a (not entirely convincing) Israeli accent pushed things rather too close to the line of being actually offensive. But still, doing it this way meant not straining the original script. I'd actually forgotten that there are quite a lot of random ethnic stereotypes in the play, not just Shylock; they had a Black (and incidentally female) actor playing the Prince of Morocco, and she did a very good job of a speech about Mislike me not for my complexion.

It started pouring with rain at a thematically appropriate moment, just at the dramatic trial scene. And getting wet while watching outdoor performances is in the best English tradition, so I could hardly object.

I generally don't like the random slapstick scenes that Shakespeare liked to insert, and in this play, with so much dramatic tension, they seemed particularly out of place. The actor playing the foolish servant made a great job of the role, but the scene where he mocks his blind father was hard to redeem, even with good comic acting. Also, the whole business with the rings and the revelation of Portia's secret identity seemed like a terrible anti-climax after the high drama of the court scene. I know it wouldn't really fit in with the expected structure for comedies of the period, but I can't help thinking the play would be stronger if it ended with Portia refusing payment, and skipped Act IV scene 2 and Act V. I do realize that's just my modern sensibility of how a story should be structured, though.

It's definitely hard for me to accept everybody converting to Christianity as a happy ending, but with this very literal performance, it did make sense.

I don't think I'm going to make a habit of seeking out performances of The Merchant of Venice, but I'm glad I saw this one, which was of a very good quality for a student production. It's only a shame that the cast nearly outnumbered the audience; I hope they had a better turnout for other performances in the run.
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Soundbite

Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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