Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Jew of Malta

Posted by Mondschein

"The Jew of Malta" presented by The York Shakespeare Company at the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, December 17, 2009.

(Photo by Michelle Sims)

Christopher Marlowe's sixteenth century tragedy is presented as a farce in this barebones production by The York Shakespeare Company, running in repertory with Shakespeare's later "Merchant of Venice."

It's an interesting concept, but questionably executed by the large and attractive, yet minimally skilled cast in this production directed by artistic director Seth Duerr.  The plot, almost Byzantine in its twists, turns and reversalsis summarized here. More interesting is the premise and attitude towards Jews afforded by Mr. Marlowe.  The titular Jew, Barabas (Paul Rubin) is presented as a scheming, godless villain, quick to deception and murder in the name of greed and revenge.  His only daughter Abigail (Emily Rose Prats) only gets sympathy for her repentant conversion to Christianity as she learns of her father's evil deeds.  In what was apparently the style at the time, bodies litter the stage both on and off in ever-increasing numbers as the villain-Jew is vanquished.

Mr. Rubin's Barabas suffers under the burden of the period language leaving us with a stiff and stilted performance.  Faring far better is Matthew Foster as the Maltese Governor, Ferneze.  His command of the character and the language are commendable in an energetic performance.  One or two other exceptions raise themselves from the rest of the cast, including Brian Morvant's Don Mathias and Nate Washburn's Don Lodowick, in excellent swordplay as they murder each other over the hand of the fair Abigail.  My old friend David Dewitt, returning to the NY stage after an extended absence shows his own core skills as Father Barnardine.

As I mentioned above, the concept of tragedy as farce is an interesting approach, but only occasionally successful.  Playing upon a bare stage, Mr. Duerr does little to differentiate scene locations other than the filing in of the various characters and their supporting entourages.  The traffic is directed pretty well, but it feels that a little more time might have been spent on character development.

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