After two Saturday evening performances, Theatre Banshee is proud to announce it will host a FREE talk-back to all ticket holders with guests Arthur Horowitz and David Kipen, as well as director Sean Branney and the cast of The Merchant of Venice.
Art Horowitz is chair and professor in the Theatre Department at Pomona College in Claremont. Art directs (he just completed directing a department production of Othello) and teaches classes in dramaturgy, theatre history, Shakespeare in Performance and Writing for Performance. His article, “Shylock after Auschwitz: The Merchant of Venice on the Post-Holocaust Stage—Subversion, Confrontation and Provocation,” originally published in the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory was then selected as representative of noteworthy Shakespearean scholarship and re-published in Shakespearean Criticism. His book Prospero’s ‘True Preservers’ (University of Delaware Press), analyzes post-World War II productions of The Tempest by Peter Brook, Giorgio Strehler and Yukio Ninagawa. Art authored a chapter for the forthcoming book, Waiting for Godot: Dialogues (Rodopi Press), in which he scrutinizes Didi and Gogo’s tragicomic/ symbiotic relationship. He has also worked as dramaturg on such Los Angeles area productions as Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life (collaboration between The Evidence Room and Unknown Theater), Euripides Electra (A Noise Within) and Athol Fugard’s Hello and Goodbye, and T.S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral (Unknown Theater).
Former NEA director of literature David Kipen has served as book critic for both the San Francisco Chronicle and, currently, the Madeleine Brand Show on KPCC. He is the author of The Schreiber Theory: A Radical Rewrite of American Film History, and founded Libros Schmibros, a lending library & used bookshop in Boyle Heights.
Tickets for these two special talk-back performances are limited! Please make your reservation online here: http://theatrebanshee.org/rezform.html.
Daniel Kaemon is no stranger to Shakespeare, having played Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar,” Hotspur in “Henry IV,” Malcolm in “Macbeth,” and Cassio in “Othello” among other notable classical roles. With Theatre Banshee’s newest production of “The Merchant of Venice” opening March 24th, he takes on Bassanio, a character at the center of two of the most interesting and important relationships in the play (Bassanio/Portia, and Antonio/Bassanio). Is Bassanio a callow youth, a greedy opportunist, a playboy, or something more complicated? Daniel talks about his work on the role:
Has “Merchant” and the role of Bassanio always been on your radar as a project you wanted to do?
Quite the contrary actually. It was a play I was unfamiliar with, and one that I perceived as anti-Semitic. And being Jewish, it was one I avoided.
What is the most interesting aspect of this role for you?
He’s flawed. He is, in the beginning at least, in a state of arrested development. The audience is by design on his side, and initially he’s easy to categorize as the romantic hero. But upon closer inspection, he puts the people closest to him in peril to advance his own interests. He puts a value and measurement on everything and everyone. He borrows and quickly blows through other people’s money without too much regard, literally almost has his best friend killed, and manages to jeopardize his new marriage along the way. And yet, he’s still likeable.
What is your take on the Bassanio/Antonio relationship?
Their relationship is perhaps one of the biggest question marks of the play. Why does Antonio go to such lengths and put his life on the line and attempt to help advance Bassanio’s quest for Portia and her fortune? As many times as you read through the text, there’s no singular justification. There are many people that conclude there must be some romantic relationship (realized or unrealized) between the two. In our production, and working with Time (Winters) who plays Antonio, we don’t see it that way…not that there’s anything wrong with that… or that it’s the wrong choice. For me, it’s very much a father/son mentor/apprentice relationship. Antonio’s selflessness is very much something you’d find a parent has for their child.
Can you describe the world of Venice created by this specific production?
Somewhere more in the 19th century with a few modern flares, not typical traditional Renaissance or Elizabethan.
Do you feel Bassanio is genuine in his feelings for Portia, or more of a fortune hunter at the beginning of the play?
It’s complicated, you know. Yes, unquestionably, he’s very much taken with Portia, and that’s supported in the text. But he’s also taken with everything she has to offer, and the idea of her. She’s the total package — beauty, brains, and billions. But I also think his infatuation and intrigue develop into a genuine love. You have to start somewhere before you get to love, so all in all, I think he’s coming from the right place, or at least a very real and human place.
What’s Bassanio’s journey over the course of the play?
In a nutshell, he grows-up. He gets over the hurdle of his arrested development. He learns there are both rewards and consequences that stem from his actions.
Do you have a specific method for approaching Shakespeare?
It’s all about text dissection for me. It’s figuring out exactly what the character is saying, what’s their intention, and how and why they’re using the words to both express themselves and go after what they want. The language is so heightened, that I try to interpret it for a modern audience, so it’s more grounded than lofty.
How is doing Shakespeare in a 99-seat theatre different from doing it in a larger space?
A smaller space allows you to be much (much) more subtle, and in many ways that compels you to be more specific in your actions and interpretation. You don’t have to worry about the guy 50 rows back.
What’s your biggest personal challenge in this role?
Creating the character arc. There are a lot of extremes thrown his way during the play (financial ruin, love, almost the loss of his friend, almost the loss of his wife), and those types of experiences stay with people and imprint themselves onto their being and psyche. He’s no different, those moments alter him, they make him grow up.
Did you have any preconceptions about the play before starting work on it? If so, how have they changed at all?
Yes, I thought the play was anti-Semitic, and as a member of the Jewish tribe, I had a bias against it. Now that I’ve been up close and personal with it, I’m starting to believe that Shakespeare used the play (in part) to reflect both the Venetian and Elizabethan cultures views of Jews, which was pretty awful. I’m torn because the intolerance is so prevalent throughout Merchant, and this production doesn’t shy away from it, but on the flipside, there’s nothing in the text that indicates its anti-Semitic themes are also shared and endorsed by the playwright. Some of the most memorable lines that really resonate on a human level come from Shylock.
Daniel Kaemon has previously appeared in War and Macbeth at Theatre Banshee. Tickets for Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” can be reserved at http://theatrebanshee.org/rezform.html.
How did you first become involved with Theatre Banshee?
When I crashed The Crucible auditions last year. It’s one of my favorite plays and I desperately wanted to be a part of the production. I was just so happy they let me read, being cast was icing on the cake!
What makes a Banshee production special?
I think it’s the company members. Theatre Banshee is like a family, so that element of trust and comfort is already there from the beginning of rehearsals. Even if you’re new to the gang, just the fact that others around you feel so at home really welcomes you and allows you to work in a space where you feel comfortable to take risks.
What interested you about the role of Nerissa?
I found it really interesting how spunky she is and yet totally devoted to the people she loves.
Do you feel The Merchant of Venice is an antisemitic play?
No, it’s a play about the perceptions of its time.
How is your approach to doing Shakespeare different from other playwrights?
I start with the language first. The text is this beautiful road map, and you’re kind of just along for the ride. I always feel like I’m peeling an onion with Shakespeare, there’s just layers upon layers of meaning and history to be researched. From there I scan out the verse and delve into the same character analysis I’d do with any other playwright.
What is the design of this particular production?
We are staging a pretty traditional version with a nod to the nineteenth century, but in a way that doesn’t distract from the timeless theme that is so relevant today. Oh, and there will be drawbridges!
If you could play any male role in the show, who would it be?
Antonio. I would love to explore his relationship with Bassanio.
Have you ever seen a production of Merchant? If so, what effect did it have on you?
You know, I actually haven’t, but I’ve heard of the RSC’s recent controversial production where they staged it as a Las Vegas Casino. I’m a big fan of reinventing Shakespeare.
Where are you in the rehearsal process currently?
We are all blocked and freshly off book. So we’re right at that point where the real fun starts to begin!
How have you been preparing for this role?
In one of our first rehearsals we spoke about this kind of “fairy tale” aspect of Portia and Nerissa’s life in Belmont. Portia’s father on his death bed setting up this elaborate will where men from all over the world seek out his daughter’s hand in marriage by choosing the right chest. Then there’s Nerissa’s undeniable love for Portia mixed with her sprite-like demeanor, and the fact that suitor after suitor continue to vie for her best friend. It can be very threatening for her I think, because as far as we know Portia is the closest thing to family Nerissa has. I couldn’t help but think about JM Barrie’s Tinker Bell and see a correlation between her jealousy out of devotion for Peter, and Nerissa’s for Portia. Because of this I’ve been looking a lot in to old fairie folklore. One of the best things I’ve read so far is “fairies hate being told ‘thank you’, as they see it as a sign of one forgetting the good deed done, and, instead, want something that will guarantee remembrance.” When I saw that I thought, oh that is so Nerissa!
Any specific challenges to this role/play for you personally?
I find it very unsettling that Shylock is forced into changing his religion. I can’t help but think he would kill himself before he’d let that happen. Every time we hit that part in the trial scene and he says, “I am content,” I picture that thought coming into his head and it’s hard for me to stomach. Also, I have to convincingly play a male at one point, so I’m working on that too.
How would you describe the Nerissa/ Portia relationship in the play?
Thelma and Louise.
What’s your favorite line or moment from the show?
Portia’s “the quality of mercy” speech.
What effect do you hope this production has on the audience?
I hope audiences really hear Portia’s mercy speech and see the absolute hypocrisy in her actions afterwards. I hope they realize we all have eyes, we all bleed, and most of the time when tickled, we all laugh.
What are your dream roles?
Ophelia from Hamlet and Babe from Crimes of the Heart.
If Nerissa was a flavor of ice cream, what would she be?
Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food because Nerissa means “sea sprite.”
Theatre Banshee’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” opens March 24th and runs through May 13th. Ticket reservations can be made by calling 818 – 846 – 5323 or by visiting www.theatrebanshee.org.