Al Pacino is coming to Broadway this fall to reprise the role of Shylock in the Merchant of Venice at the Broadhurst Theatre. Pacino seems to have fallen in love with this role, as it will be his second reprisal of the Jewish money-lender who demands a pound of flesh and ultimately death from beloved Antonio.
New Yorkers can actually see Pacino’s portrayal right now, either by putting the 2004 film on their Netflix queue (71 percent on Rottentomatoes.com!) or taking a trip to Central Park on a starry night and enjoying Shakespeare in the Park at Delacorte Theatre. The limited engagement will run from October 19, 2010 to January 9, 2011 once the summer production moves indoors for the fall, bestowing natives and tourists 78 opportunities to experience a living legend performing one of the more complex romantic comedies from the master of bards.
This play is perhaps the most appropriate Shakespeare work for our time. The “Shylock problem” (the risk of appearing anti-Semitic in the play’s portrayal of a money-lending Jew engulfed by his desire for revenge) has plagued productions since the end of World War II. Certainly, there is still enough religious strife in the world for the Shylock paradox to linger, but there is a new wrinkle that permeates the whole of society and adds a new layer to this already contentious story.
In a more modern take, a play about money-lenders demanding the very skin of their clients strikes a particular chord in this day and age of record foreclosures. A home and property have long been etched into cultural conscious as the epitome of the American Dream, so when we lose those homes it is akin to waking up in the midst of a peaceful slumber only to find you are being robbed. Obviously, most citizens would perceive themselves to be the victim if our modern times were etched into this play.
However, we are Shylock at the same time, demanding a pound of flesh from the executives who we endowed billions to keep those money-lending institutions afloat. We gave the money to save our own hides as much as the banks’, but the results of these bailouts have been even created much more dispute than even the original debate whether or not to bequeath the funds.
If this play were tweaked to more perfectly fit the United States in the 21st century, who, if anyone, is right in all this? This new layer of complexity makes another trip to the theater with Merchant of Venice tickets a necessity as we all traverse this difficult financial and moral landscape. At least, this is my new train of thought as I wait for the production to become a true Broadway show, that and the thrill of seeing Pacino display his brilliance in person uttering the lines of perhaps the most gifted writer in the history of the English language.