You need to know that I’m Shakespignorant. There are enough things that I don’t know about William Shakespeare to fill a book 2 leagues tall and 6 Banquos wide. I mean, sure, I’m familiar enough with his characters, his plotlines and his quotes that I can bluff my way through a crowd of snobby actors ranged viciously around a free bar just before it switches to a cash bar, but that’s just because they’re all usually drunk or under the misapprehension that I’m a producer or a gold medallion contributor to the theater (because that is in fact what I tell them). But, if truth be told, I possess a far richer knowledge of television legends like the Clampett Family, Batman, Sigmund the Sea Monster and Alf than I could ever hope to have for the works of the legendary English Bard. So went I unto the Shakespeare Tavern in downtown Atlanta last night, with great hopes of lessening my Shakespignorance upon the viewing of “The Merchant of Venice” featuring Doug Kaye in the role of the villainous victim Shylock.
This is the second play that I’ve seen at the Shakespeare Tavern, which is located directly across Peachtree Street from the Crawford Long Professional Building and is easily recognized by the elaborate scaffolding along its facade. The Tavern is in the midst of installing an Elizabethan-themed facade, forcing the aggressive transients in the area to compete with construction workers for the attention of passersby, which makes for great pre-show theater if you’ve the time and (for the ladies, the mace) to spare.
I showed up without expectation or preconception, I was only there to see Doug’s performance of Shylock and enjoy a Friday beer with my beef stew and get home in time to tweak my new website. If you enjoy live theatre and haven’t been to the Shakespeare Tavern you should consider making the effort, and be sure to get there early enough to eat before the actors begin their strutting, because there was some grade-A first class strutting going on the night of “Merchant”. I was surprised to see one of the new Lost Boys, J.C. Long, doing some of the biggest scenery chewing as a sidekick to the romantic lead. At one point I swear that he slipped into Lord Flasheart, an over-the-top character from the British television show “Black Adder”. Veronica Duerr as Portia was a welcome sight and well played, at times it was as if Shakespeare had written her part in modern English. It was obvious that the cast was having fun and that in their final weekend of performing the play that they’d decided to pepper the play with a wide variety of bodily emissions, especially Kirk Harris Seaman as Shylock’s clownish servant Launcelot Gobbo. I wondered if the level of comedy was rolling too high when the play crested around its dramatic peak, Shylock’s legal attempt to claim a pound of flesh from a debtor.
I knew from a local web newsletter’s online article that Doug was more than a bit excited to finally land the role of Shylock as it marked his fifth time doing the play but his first in the role of the Jewish moneylender. Backed into a moral corner by the discrimination of the Christian Venetians, Doug’s Shylock was simultaneously soft and sympathetic, unyielding and vindictive. Doug is gifted with a voice that could sell cod-liver flavored iMacs to Michael Dell, which undoubtedly affected his approach to Shylock. Instead of a caricaturish cawing, creedling wheeler-dealer I found Doug’s soft-spoken businessman to be sadder still… a nice enough guy who has snapped under the hatred and discrimination toward his minority.
You know, that Shakespeare guy writes pretty good stuff.