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Theater Notes: Courageous Theater: Anti-semitism and racism

By Staff | Apr 5, 2017

I celebrate the brave and confronting live theater here in Southwest Florida. Two of the very best productions are “must sees” and on our stages right now.

One of them is at The Gulfshore Playhouse, a theater with a long reputation for powerful, relevant and demanding plays. The producing artistic director has mounted a glorious and enthralling “The Merchant of Venice.”

She has picked a brilliant cast of nine equity actors, and welded them into something as good as anything on Broadway. This is Shakespeare as you may never have seen it before. The script shows the Bard in full range, and the production values celebrate the writing and the superb acting.

The plot is painful. Shylock, and the pound of flesh are central. He isn’t pretty, not loveable in any way, but real. I urge you to go see how Larry Paulsen carves him out. It is gripping. Yet, the production has clowns and wit and sparkling humor mixed with great suspense, even if you know the ending from 11th grade or some college class.

The director does not spare us the history of Shylocks’s persecution and cruel treatment by Antonio. “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gaberdine.” Snide as the privileged often are, Antonio answers, “I am as like to spit on thee again, and spurn thee as well.” One’s compassion rises as Shylock also has to deal with a daughter who runs off with stolen money and her Christian suitor. It all makes us really listen and totally hear the famous speech, “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?”

Shakespeare and the director do not give us an easy ride. No one fell asleep in this production. The standing ovation was loud and long. I have to believe that it confronted everyone in that audience at some level because it asks the question, “Where do you stand on anti-Semitism right here, right now?”

Kudos to Ms. Coury and everyone who made that evening truly memorable. You will not regret going and you will not forget it, either. “The Merchantof Venice” runs until April 15. Get your tickets fast.

Go to gulfshoreplayhouse.org or call (866) 811-4111. Support live Theater.

Now the second play, the one that opens up the whole rancid issue of racism in our society. It is a world premiere at the constantly experimental Theatre Conspiracy in Fort Myers. The artistic director, Bill Taylor has found a play totally worthy of our attention. It is called, “The Cave” by Jeff Lindsay.

The time is near the end of the Civil War. We meet a young African American runaway slave girl, Cassie, played by a fine young actress, Marie Baptiste. Cassie is trying to read the Bible, never having been to school, she knows enough to phonetically struggle. And, suddenly, a badly wounded confederate soldier breaks through the hole in her hideaway cave. The soldier, Brandon, strongly portrayed by Jordan Wilson, has been blinded in battle, tattered and torn, and near collapse.

Cassie has been brutally treated by her slave master, and his wife has belittled and demeaned her in ugly ways, as well. Whites are not to be trusted. Racism rears its divisive head. But, there is Brandon. Tenderly, a relationship builds. He thinks she is a fine lady. She never tells him otherwise, and explains that she’s headed for Boston where freedom exists and she can raise babies who will believe in freedom.

He just moans that war is hell and he never wants any of it again. Both talk of hope and what’s next in life. They raise the question of where is God in all of this? The audience begins to care for them down in this hopeless hole in the ground. Act I ends dramatically. A union deserter, Timothy, slams into the cave and sees Cassie and Brandon close. We couldn’t wait to get back in after the intermission. It doubled the reasons to go see “The Cave.” Act II heats up the viciousness of racism and the damages of war.

Make it a must-see. Get tickets fast. It only runs until April 8. Call (239) 936-3239. See both of these plays. Keep live theater alive for all of us.