Merchant of Venice -- 07/18/03

One of the delights of living in the South County area of Rhode Island is Shakespeare-in-the-park in Wilcox Park in the village of Westerly. I think the only time I've written about it was three years ago, but we've gone every summer since we moved to Rhode Island (except for '98 when I was in England for a couple of weeks in July). We've seen Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Henry IV Part I, Romeo and Juliet, Comedy of Errors, etc.

This year it was The Merchant of Venice -- a very difficult play, mixing romantic comedy with tragedy -- but, as usual, it was a well-staged and well-performed evening, featuring David Birney as Shylock. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, remembering him as Bernie Steinberg on Bridget Loves Bernie (although you may remember him from St. Elsewhere or Serpico (the tv show, not the movie) -- or, if you're young enough, maybe you don't remember him at all -- a 30 year old co-worker of mine just gave me a blank look when I mentioned Bridget Loves Bernie). Not to fear -- Birney was marvelous as Shylock, absolutely masterful, a powerful and emotional but nuanced performance. I had had no idea that he was that good.

As most years, Nancy's mother came with us. We were discussing the production on our way home from the play last night and both Nancy and her mother commented on how emotionally upsetting they found it when characters spit out the word "Jew" as a hate-filled epithet. My mother-in-law was searching for the right word "it seemed so... so..." and I could not help but supply "European?" and she agreed. The play was done in not-quite modern dress -- Antonio wore a business suit and Shylock was dressed as an Orthodox European Jew, almost Hasidic -- and most of the other characters (Bassanio, Gratiano, Lorenzo, the Duke of Venice, etc.) were dressed in semi-military garb (high leather books, khaki pants and shirts, military-style caps) and were constantly giving straight-armed fascist salutes. No, not Nazi-like, more like 1930's Italian brown-shirts... but the anti-Semitic hatred was just so modern-day European.

My brother is not going to be coming over to run the Blessing of the Fleet with me... He twisted his ankle in a muddy cross-country race a week and a half ago and is still limping. As he put it, he must be getting old because he's allowing common sense to prevail rather than charging ahead while injured. Now I'm thinking of passing on the race myself. My daughter had already indicated that she has not been able to accumulate enough training mileage to want to tackle a ten mile run. I got in an eight mile run a week ago (okay, so the last mile or so wasn't very pretty but I did it) and I should already have done another of that length this week...

So I keep thinking, it won't be the same fun if Charlie and I aren't running it together... and no longer any reason to risk getting hurt (because I've really not put in the proper amount of training for this)... and besides which, we have an alternative plan: a run around the block.

Or, to be more specific, The Run Around the Block -- a fifteen kilometer run around Block Island that's coming up on Sept. 6th. I've always wanted to run that race. It's about the same distance (about 9.3 miles rather than the 10 of the Blessing of the Fleet) but it's a much tougher race because Block Island has some pretty good hills. So that's our plan -- that does not, of course, preclude me from running the Blessing next Friday, but I'm now leaning toward skipping it.

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