We pressed on this past week with a fever-pitch of activity and there was no time to write about it – or rather, such was the switching of gears that we thought we’d discombobulate the blog reader with the discontinuity of subject. But in the end, it’s All Theater All The Time, right, so that’s the thread. Or, to quote our Resident Director, Nick Olcott, who directed an utterly fine and finely presented, completely sold-out three-night run of Arnold Wesker’s SHYLOCK while preparing for auditions at the end of the month for not one but two upcoming musicals, “It’s all Theater J All The Time!” Yes, it’s been late nights and early mornings at the theater. Theo Bikel and his partner Tamara Brooks were a pleasure to host. They arrived last Tuesday and left on Wednesday; they’re their own whirlwind of multiple activities, giving lectures, attending receptions, arranging dinner parties all the while Theo completely devoted to exhuming the ghost of Shakespeare’s Shylock and fashioning the notorious legend anew according to the particular pleasures of Sir Arnold Wesker. Theo’s co-star, Edward Gero, in the role of Antonio, had his own little drama going on, as did we. Ed, who was Theo’s perfect foil in our 2005 production of THE DISPUTATION, was set to be splendid alongside Theo in SHYLOCK when, Sunday morning, 12 hours before the first presentation, Ed’s back blew out and he was unable to move. keep reading
Ed remained bed-ridden for the next 48 hours. Nick Olcott, himself a Helen Hayes Award nominated actor, stepped into the role of Antonio for the next two nights and served the role and the evening beautifully. If not for Nick, our little theater would be much littler indeed. Nick has been a brave shepherd on so many projects, and on SHYLOCK he literally created a mountain from a budgetary mole-hill. And as reward to us all, on the final night of our limited run, Ed Gero returned to us and delivered a knock-out Antonio. Theo and Ed might as well have been doing THE SUNSHINE BOYS so adept was their synchronicity. As Ed told me later on the ride home back to his place, Theo and he were “making withdrawals from the bank account” which they’d accrued on THE DISPUTATION. They tendered magic.
Wesker’s play was the major component, but only one of the elements which comprised our “Shylock Project,” an endeavor that included a talk by Grace Tiffany on a feminist reading of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, reading from her new book “The Turquoise Ring” in an event sponsored by our friends at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, And on Tuesday, May 15, we presented Michael Olmert’s new play, SHAKESPEARE AND DR. LOPEZ about a possible motivation for Shakespeare becoming inspired to write the character of Shylock, drawing from the historical record concerning the life and death of Dr. Rodrigo Lopez, a Converso Jew and doctor to the Queen who was falsely accused of trying to poison her and sentenced to death. The play imagines a relationship between Shakespeare and Lopez and has the innate appeal and interest as Tom Stoppard’s screenplay for SHAKEPSEARE IN LOVE, a film about the source events that might have led the Bard to write Romeo and Juliet. The 35 assembled in our theater for the 4 pm reading felt, by the end, that we were watching a major new work announce itself; with still major rewriting to go, the play was a thrilling discovery, to find a jaunty new angle on a piece of old history.
The excitement at our theater was one of overlapping narratives, the Gerstein tragedy on Sunday afternoon giving way to Shylock’s trauma on Sunday night; the going from a radical re-imagining of The Merchant for modern audiences, and then a modernist piece of scholarship leading us back to the possible origins from whence the tale came. There were threads to be tied between all these takes and it marked a particularly rich detour from our mainstage focus.
Wednesday morning we switched gears yet again and spent 8 hours in auditions with the wonderful Jerry Whiddon for David Mamet’s SPEED-THE-PLOW. We were looking for a Karen, the beautiful temporary secretary with a mogul’s agenda all her own in the tale of two avaricious Jewish Man-Boys in Hollywood. We found a couple great potentials.
There are more stories to share. New dramas percolating within our office as I continue to fall in love with new projects that may or may not make it into our already ambitious season. Stay tuned for that… When we’re ready to share we shall. And maybe even before then!