Monday, November 18, 2013

Loyola's Performance of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE


By Kento Ikeda

Program for Loyola's performance
During the second half of October, we read The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, watched the 2005 Michael Radford movie of this play, and discussed them in the Advanced Reading class of the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP). On Monday, November 4, we had a discussion with Dr. Laura Hope, associate professor in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance at Loyola University New Orleans and director of Loyola's performance of The Merchant of Venice. Then, we watched the play at Loyola's Marquette Theater on the evening of Thursday, November 7.

During her visit with our class, Dr. Hope explained that she had chosen to give the play a more modern setting than Renaissance Europe: that of fascist Italy in 1939 with Mussolini in power. Mussolini planned to recreate the Roman Empire. To begin expanding his territory, Mussolini invaded North Africa, specifically Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, there was a community of black Jews who understood themselves as the descendants of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and who called themselves Beta Israel.

Dr. Laura Hope, Director
This historical background is important because Dr. Hope had cast an African-American actor as Shylock. Shylock, then, is from this black Ethiopian Jewish community of Beta Israel. Following the destruction of his homeland during Mussolini's North Africa military campaign, Shylock decided to relocate to Italy, where Jews were enjoying freedom and acceptance and where even some high-ranking posts in Mussolini's administration were held by Jews. Although Mussolini had not previously attacked jews, who had helped him to come to power, Italy suddenly enacted laws encouraging anti-Jewish discrimination some time after Shylock's arrival there. These laws appeared in the newspaper one day, surprising everyone, Jews and non-Jews alike.

Some remarkable features appeared in the performance of The Merchant of Venice directed by Dr. Hope.

SHYLOCK. Like the acting of Al Pacino (Shylock) in Michaelf Radford's movie, the acting of Akeem Biggs (Shylock) in Loyola's performance gave me a clear image of Shylock's feelings. Shylock was a Jew and was discriminated against by the Christians, and Biggs could express to the audience Shylock's sadness, anger, and humanity. For example, in the scene at court, when Shylock told us that he really wanted revenge against the Christians, Biggs came close to the audience and spoke loudly with a sad, angry facial expression and strong body language. Biggs's acting was so impressive that it changed the atmosphere in the theater.

THE PRINCE OF ARAGON. The Prince of Aragon, in the casket scene, as portrayed by Antonio Gil-Martinez in Michael Radford's movie and as portrayed by Lauren Patton in Loyola's performance were different. Both Gil-Martinez and Patton portrayed Aragon as a man with self-confidence who looked down on other people, but Patton also played Aragon as an old man who could not hear clearly and who stumbled when he walked. This was a funny part, and the audience laughed at Patton's excellent acting.

ANTI-JEWISH GRAFFITI. Loyola's stage set showed that Christians had written anti-Jewish graffit on the door of Shylock's home. This is another way to show discrimination toward the Jews in the play that was not used in the Radford movie.

PHYSICAL AND VERBAL ABUSE OF SHYLOCK. In the Radford movie, the Christians showed their contempt for Jews by spitting at Shylock's face, but it was difficult to do this in Loyola's performance. In Loyola's performance, the Christians treated the Jews harshly in other ways. In court, the Christians hit Shylock after his trial. Also, they threw stones at Shylock's house. Throwing stones at another's house is prohibited by law now, but at that time this showed that the Jews did not have the same rights as the Christians had.

In conclusion, Dr. Hope set the play in a more modern era than the Renaissance, and it worked even better than I had expected. This performance attracted me and forced me to think about discrimination deeply. There were many funny parts in the performance, for example, the casket scene with the Prince of Aragon, described above. On the other hand, there were meaningful parts, for example, the discrimination against Shylock. The contrast between the funny parts and the sad parts was distinct. In the Loyola performance of The Merchant of Venice, I could both enjoy the play itself and think seriously about discrimination.
Students of LIEP Advanced Reading class with Dr. Laura Hope, 2nd from left in front row, standing

* * *
Kento Ikeda of Japan
Our thanks to Kento Ikeda of Japan for this fine overview of our visit with Dr. Laura Hope, director of Loyola's performance of The Merchant of Venice, and of the performance itself. Kento is an exchange student from Sophia University in Tokyo, majoring in economics. Thank you, Kento!

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