At Classic Stage Company’s East 13th Street Theatre we performed a Readers Theater version of The Merchant of Venice. The idea of Readers Theater is that the audience becomes the character who is being spoken to, every line is said directly to the audience. It creates a different kind of community than a traditionally staged production and focused the listener on the language – what you hear is more important than what you see.
One of our panelists, the OBIE award-winning actor John Douglas Thompson describing the performance: “I got a lot out of it, I heard things I hadn’t heard before in the context of the language. And so I found the presentation really wonderful because it opened up new vistas for me.”
In the panel that followed one question came up that provoked quite a bit of discussion: What is more powerful or impactful – hate or love?
A very challenging and meaningful conversation has followed this question with many advocates for love being the most impactful, but Rabbi Hirschfield added a bit of a challenge to the discussion:
“I’m very interested in evidence-based approaches to life. Show me the evidence of a hate-based approach to life. What kind of world does it create for the hater and hated, and for the legacies of both? Show me the evidence of the world created by the lover and loved and the legacy it creates for them?”
Looking at The Merchant of Venice and the legacies of the characters, it is hard to imagine it becoming a legacy full of meaningful relationships, but what about us? What can we do to create a legacy of love?
The discussion continued with a heated discussion of whether or not the play was anti-Semetic, with many arguments for and against and Fr. Matt Malone offered this in his final parting thoughts: “The real genius of the play is that it reminds us it is better to discuss something without resolving it, than to resolve it without discussing it.”
Truly this was also the case for the characters in the play, how much better would it have been to allow the characters to discuss their differences rather than forcing Shylock’s conversion and therefore “resolving” the problem.
Thank you to all who joined us last night. It truly was a wonderful evening.