Sunday, November 14, 2010

Love and Dirty, Sexy Ducats

by Ben Brantley

New York Times
November 13, 2010

They belong to worlds that, in the normal course of events, would never intersect. But Shakespeare, as the creator of their universe, saw fit to let their paths cross just once. And when Portia finally meets Shylock, in Daniel Sullivan’s absolutely splendid production of The Merchant of Venice at the Broadhurst Theater, the collision lights up the sky.

Giving what promise to be the performances of this season, Lily Rabe, as Portia the heiress, and Al Pacino, as Shylock the usurer, invest the much-parsed trial scene of this fascinating, irksome work with a passion and an anger that purge it of preconceptions. You may find yourself trembling, as one often does when something scary and baffling starts to make sense. At the same time you’re likely to have trouble figuring out exactly where your sympathies lie. For at this moment everybody hurts.

In traditional presentations of Act IV, Scene 1 of “Merchant” Portia, disguised as a male lawyer to rescue a man under threat of death, emerges as an avenging angel; Shylock, viciously poised to kill an enemy in an act of legal redress, is usually the vanquished villain or, in more fashionable contemporary readings, the Jewish victim of a Christian social order reasserting itself.

But what you read in Ms. Rabe’s delicately expressive features is hardly a look of triumph. Her face is that of someone registering a precious and irrevocable loss. In an odd way the fatalistic, shrunken sorrow of Mr. Pacino’s crouched Shylock, who has not only been thwarted of his revenge but also stripped of his identity, seems to mirror Portia’s own state of mind.


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