“We women have failed. We’ve raised men who believe we’re less than human.”
By Melanie Hooks
This was the line that took audience breath away opening night Saturday, October 6, 2018. Not the only zinger of the evening, but given the gender-loaded fight in D.C. that had played out with a Supreme Court Justice swearing in earlier that day, it came across as spectacular crystal ball accuracy.
How can a playwright see so clearly into the current moment from the past and give it voice?
It’s easier when the past was 2017.
To be fair, though Sarah Mantell workshopped Boston Court’s newest production “Everything That Never Happened” at Yale last year, she’s exploring much older stories. A famous Shakespearean one to start. And a particularly famous and particularly troubling character – the Jewish moneylender Shylock.
Director Jessica Kubzansky says, “I fell in love with this play the moment I read it. I’m a passionate Shakespeare lover, and I had done a workshop of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ but found myself wrestling mightily with both the misogyny and the anti-Semitism at the heart of that play. What I instantly fell in love with in Sarah’s play was the opportunity to meet Shylock, Jessica, Lorenzo and Gobbo as richly three-dimensional human beings, with so much humor, joy, and pain in them all. The complexity at the heart of this story about a young Jewish woman who falls in love with a Christian man and then leaves both her culture and the father she loves behind, moved me unutterably.”
The goal here is to unwrite the worst racial stereotypes of a people, stereotypes so damaging they’ve been used to justify mass slaughter, and to give back the characters of Shylock (Leo Marks) and his daughter Jessica (Erica Soto) their humanity. We experience the “pound of flesh” scenario through the eyes of a young woman in love with Lorenzo (Paul Culos), a free Christian outside her own strictly regulated enclave – Venice’s Jewish ghetto of 1591. Soto’s free thinking and emotive Jessica plays particularly well against the rigidly self-contained Marks as her father, a man haunted by his wife’s loss and tortured by daily reminders of freedoms he can never give his daughter in a Christian-ruled city. Historically, Shakespeare’s ‘happy ending’ demands Shylock become Christianized as well, but Mantell takes that plot twist as a chance to present modern audiences with the real, devastating costs of cultural assimilation. Beyond that, Mantell takes on the “whisper campaign” style of modern political warfare, with characters who think they love one another suddenly questioning their loyalties in the face of “news” that contradicts what they believe about each other’s integrity and character. Several lines repeat as haunting refrains, delivered with increasing effect as new characters adopt them in different circumstances: “Am I allowed to love you?” “Do you think so little of me?”
Boston Court does a clean and moving job of putting Mantell’s timely and affecting piece front and center – a treat from our only Pasadena theater focused on living playwrights and emerging work. New work, yes, but destined to last.
Everything That Never Happened
• Written by Sarah B. Mantell
• Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
Erika Soto, Paul Culos, Leo Marks, and Dylan Saunders.
Boston Court Pasadena
70 N Mentor Ave., Pasadena, CA 91106
• Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00pm; Sundays at 2:00pm through Nov. 4.
• General admission:$20 – $39.
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