A Review of Shylock
Review by Max D’Ambrosio – Showbill.ca Staff Writer
Mark Leiren-Young’s Shakespeare-inspired play Shylock has been staged as a special addition to Bard on the Beach’s 2017 lineup, starring Warren Kimmel and directed by Sherry J. Yoon. Shylock is a clarion call for those in touch with the arts’ societal role as a vehicle for limitless thought, and as provocation of conversation. Recently it has become more and more relevant, as a defense of the inherent value in even the most morally indefensible examples of great art.
Central to its strength is Kimmel in his role as Jon Davies – the aggravated Jewish actor who attempts to portray The Merchant of Venice’s Jewish moneylender Shylock as the villain Shakespeare intended him to be. In an “actor’s talk-back session,” Davies tells the story of how he ran up against the obstruction of society’s fluctuating, nigh-incoherent concepts of what is or isn’t acceptable in artistic expression. The performance features theatrical delivery and body language – Shylock is most often performed in more realistic style, but that is not so here. Kimmel aptly conveys a sense of vehement rebuke towards advocates of censorship and revisionism, whether real or fictional. He is frequently biting, occasionally sympathetic to his ideological antagonists, and always likeable and engaging.
The staging also follows along with the innovative direction choice to slightly favour theatricality over realism. For the first half or so, ongoing processes such as Davies’ stripping off pieces of his Shylock costume or his fiddling with dressing-room props onstage contribute to a visual variety that helps propel or pause the monologue, shaping it into a digestible rhythm.
Towards the end, this dynamism peters out a little, causing the performance’s overall style to resemble a lecture almost as much as a dramatic monologue – somewhat lacking in pauses or lulls that might have helped with emphasis. However, by that point the intellectual content, the underlying argument, has sunk in its hooks. Even at times when the presentation’s pacing feels slightly less than optimal, the content and force of the performance more than make up for it. It is guaranteed to hold the attention of anyone who cares about art.
The Bottom Line
Shylock, even in a production of such high quality, may not convince those entrenched on the opposite side of the debate over the relationship between political correctness and free speech. Then again: it doesn’t have to. It simply provokes conversation and inspires open-minded people to seek their own truth. Shylock is undeniably provocative, as the very best art has always been.