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Merchant of Venice: The Gloves Are Off

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After seeing The Public Theater's production of The Merchant of Venice in Central Park, critics Adam Feldman and Elisabeth Vincentelli had disparate opinions, and they're sticking to them.

Shylock, the Jewish money lender (played in the park by Al Pacino), often makes contemporary audiences squirm. Though he says he thought Daniel Sullivan's directing was on the mark by emphasizing the elements of Shakespearian romantic comedy, Feldman takes issue with the play itself. "On some level, no matter how you disguise it, it's still a kind of anti-Semitic play," he says.

Vincentelli, on the other hand, couldn't stand Daniel Sullivan's "frothy" direction. "I think it missed out on some of the nastier edges of the play, and I don’t think it’s something we should shy away from," she says. Despite the anti-Semitic undertones, Vincentelli believes the portrayal of Shylock is neccessary: "otherwise we'd just have plays with boring happy characters that are all nice and good," she says.

The conversation makes sparring partners of Vincentelli and Feldman, complete with interruptions and exclamations that stop just short of expletives (this is, after all, public radio).  

Here is the second part of the conversation, where they rolled up their sleeves and all bets were off:

Bon Mots:

On Daniel Sullivan's direction: "I think it's the embodiment of this benign, middle-class theater that doesn't have the guts to an opinion!" - Elisabeth Vincentelli

On anti-Semitism in The Merchant of Venice: "I think it’s a gorgeous production and that's my worry.  I think it’s too gorgeous a production, I think it’s going to make people want to come and see this play.  The play is, in and of itself, no matter what you do with it, kind of dangerous." - Adam Feldman

On omitting a racist line from the text: "I can't understand why you defend a production that is cutting corners like this, to kind of 'prettify' this character!" - Elisabeth Vincentelli