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Saturday, August 20, 2016

*The Merchant of Venice* Opens September 2!

Flatwater Shakespeare returns to the Swan Theatre at Wyuka Stables to present The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s provocative exploration of love, hate, prejudice, and revenge, directed by Tom Crew. The show opens on Friday, September 2 and runs through Friday, September 16.

Antonio, the merchant of the title, borrows money from Shylock to help his friend Bassanio in courting Portia, an heiress. The terms of the loan include the forfeit of “a pound of flesh,” which Shylock can collect if the funds are not repaid at the agreed time. Shylock has already suffered persecution for being Jewish, and later his daughter, Jessica, elopes with Lorenzo, one of Bassanio's friends, taking much of her father's wealth with her. When Antonio cannot pay, Shylock seeks revenge through the bond. Having already won Portia's heart, Bassanio passes the test devised by her late father to determine the worthiest husband. After learning of the danger facing Antonio, Portia tries to save Bassanio's friend.

Flatwater Shakespeare veteran Richard Nielsen (Polonius in last year's Hamlet) plays Antonio, with Christian Muñoz joining the company as Bassanio. Portia is played by Megan Higgins (last seen as Rosalind in As You Like It), with Rachel Stoops Brown making her Flatwater Shakespeare debut as Nerissa, Portia's lady-in-waiting. Patrick Lambrecht (Claudius in Hamlet) is Shylock, with Kresse Alvey as Jessica and Matt Cummins (Sylvius in As You Like It) as Lorenzo.

The ensemble also features past Flatwater Shakespeare performers Beth Govaerts, Dillon Kirby, Walter McDowell, Larry Mota, Christian Novotny, and Rich Sibley. Other newcomers include Marie-Ruth Henke, Jeffrey Luksik, and Jason Query.

Tom Crew, who staged Edward Albee's Seascape at the Swan Theatre last summer for the Crooked Codpiece Company (and was a memorable Gravedigger in Flatwater Shakespeare's Hamlet), is the show's director. His production team includes costume designer Kat Cover, technical director Richard Imig, stage manager Stephanie Kahler, assistant stage manager Summer Smeester, and dramaturg Stephen Buhler. Bob Hall is Artistic Director for the Flatwater Shakespeare Company.

Performance dates for The Merchant of Venice are September 2-5, 8-11, and 14-16. Show time is 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 general, $16 seniors, and $12 students. Group rates are also available. The Swan Theatre at Wyuka Stables is located at 3600 “O” Street in Lincoln.

Discussions of the play will follow select performances. Concessions will be available each evening. For information and for ticket sales or reservations, visit flatwatershakespearecompany.org or call 402-601-8529.


Saturday, August 06, 2016

Harry Golden on Shylock and Shakespeare

Harry Golden, born Herschel Goldhirsch in the Ukraine, became an extraordinary journalist and publisher in the United States during the mid-20th century. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, he was a fearless reporter and commentator on civil rights issues and eventually founded The Carolina Israelite, a weekly journal offering Jewish perspectives and reminiscences. In one of his columns, later reprinted in a best-selling collection, Only in America, Golden argues that The Merchant of Venice succeeds in being both anti-Semitic and anti-anti-Semitic. Here are some excerpts --

From Harry Golden, “Shylock and William Shakespeare”

Now let us get started on William Shakespeare and The Merchant of Venice. Mr. Shakespeare was first and foremost Mr. Theatre. He was a craftsman interested in filling his theater; earning dividends for his colleagues and partner-producers and providing a livelihood for his fellow actors. He also wrote a “Jew play” [as Christopher Marlowe had done with The Jew of Malta] . . . Shakespeare gave his audience a play in which they could confirm their prejudices – but he did much more. Shakespeare was the first writer in seven hundred years who gave the Jew a “motive.” Why did he need to give the Jew a motive? Certainly his audience did not expect it. For centuries they had been brought up on the stereotype, “this is evil because it’s evil,” and here Shakespeare comes along and goes to so much “unnecessary” trouble giving Shylock a motive. At last – a motive!

Fair sir, you spit on me Wednesday last;

You spurned me such a day; another time

You called me dog.

Fighting words. Many a Southerner of ante-bellum days did not bother about getting a “pound of flesh.” He finished his traducer on the spot. But Shakespeare gives us no rest. He is actually writing a satire on the Gentile middle class and the pseudo-Christians, and he wastes no time. What does Antonio, this paragon of Christian virtue, say to this charge of Shylock’s? Does he turn the other cheek? Does he follow the teaching of Jesus to “love thine enemies?” Not by a long shot. This “noble” man replies to Shylock’s charge:

I am as like to call thee so again,

To spit on thee again, to spurn thee too.

But Shakespeare has hardly begun . . . why does this noble Antonio, the Christian merchant, want the three thousand ducats to begin with? Why did Shakespeare go out of his way to show that Antonio’s request for a loan was based on cheapness and chicanery? He did not have to do that. Certainly not for an anti-Semitic audience of 1598. He could have contrived a million more noble causes. Patriotism. Antonio needed the money for widows and orphans. Or to defend Venice against an Invader. How the audience would have eaten that up. But Shakespeare refuses to make it that simple. Let us discuss the play from the viewpoint of the audience, like when your children go to the movies. The “good guys” and the “bad guys.” Antonio and his friends are the “good guys”; Shylock, the Jew, is the “bad guy”. Now what do we have here? Antonio’s friend, Bassanio, one of the “good guys,” is in debt to Antonio. He wants to pay back and he has a scheme. Portia just inherited a wad of money. If he can get Portia and her dough all his troubles would be over. But Bassanio says the project needs some front money. You need money to woo a rich girl like Portia. So he says to Antonio, lend me just a little. He says that when he was a youth and when he lost one arrow, he shot another in the same direction and often retrieved both. So now, lend me some dough so I can make love to a rich lady who has just inherited a vast fortune, and with good luck I’ll not only pay you back what you advanced me but I’ll give you all back debts I owe you.

This is the deal the two “noble” guys in Shakespeare’s play made. Antonio says, “It’s a deal, only all my ready cash is tied up in my ships, and I’ll not be able to lay my hands on ready cash for ninety days or so.” And so they go to Shylock to borrow the money.

How could we help but sense that Shakespeare was writing an indictment of the hypocrites who vitiated every precept taught them by Christianity? Shylock is a widower. He has only one daughter, Jessica, who falls in love with Lorenzo, a Gentile. The “good” guys induce her not only to desert her widowed father but to rob him, and dressed in boy’s clothing (a third crime in Jewish law). Jessica steals away in the night to elope with Lorenzo.

I will make fast the doors, and gild myself

With some more ducats, and be with you straight.

Based on Western law Jessica has committed the crime of theft. She has also committed the moral crime of stealing out of her father’s house during the night and deserting him, and as the young thief comes away with her father’s money, what do the “good” guys say? Gratiano exclaims:

Now, by my hood, a Gentile and no Jew!

Can you imagine how the audience howled with glee as Jessica was leaving Shylock’s house with his caskets of money? Shakespeare probably figured that during this howling the audience would miss the follow-up line. You have deserted your father, stolen out of his house during the night dressed in boy’s clothing, and robbed him of his money, and now you are a Gentile, and, by my hood, no Jew. The playwright set his 1598 audience to howling. The poet-philosopher wrote for all future generations.

. . . Shakespeare leads us up to the clincher. The audience and the players are now waiting for the big moment before the court where Shylock is bringing his suit against Antonio, the merchant, for his pound of flesh. Portia enters disguised as a lawyer and what does she say? What are her first words at this final showdown between the “good” guys and the “bad” guys? Portia asks a most natural question:

Which is the Merchant here, and which the Jew?

Both the Plaintiff and the Defendant are standing before the court. Portia has never seen either one of them before, but as an educated gentlewoman she has behind her the culture of many centuries of the stereotype Jew. If not actually with horns, you certainly can recognize the “devil” a mile away. And there he is ten feet away – she has a fifty fifty chance at making a guess between the “good” guy and the “bad” guy but she won’t risk it.

Which is the Merchant here, and which the Jew?

And when it all goes against Shylock, Shakespeare seems to go out of his way to give us a frightening picture of the “victors.” He has them standing together pouring out a stream of vengeance. We’re not through with you yet Jew, and the money we have left you after you have paid all these fines, you must leave that to Jessica and your son-in-law who robbed you. Shakespeare keeps them hissing their hate. Tarry yet a while, Jew, we’re still not through with you. You must also become a Christian. The final irony. The gift of love offered in an atmosphere which is blue with hatred. And as all of this is going on, Shakespeare leaves only Shylock with a shred of dignity!

I pray you, give me leave to go from hence.


Written for The Carolina Israelite, reprinted in Golden's Only In America, World Publishing, 1958.

Photo: Henry Irving as Shylock, one of the first sympathetic stage portrayals, c. 1879.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Cast List for *The Merchant of Venice*

The Flatwater Shakespeare Company is proud to announce the cast for The Merchant of Venice, directed by Tom Crew. Performances will be at The Swan Theatre at Wyuka Stables, September 2-5, 8-11, and 14-16.

Kresse Alvey – Jessica
Matt Cummins – Lorenzo
Beth Govaerts – Salarino
Marie Ruth-Henke – Clerk / Balthasar
Megan Higgins – Portia
Dillon Kirby – Arragon
Patrick Lambrecht – Shylock
Jeffrey Luksik – Launcelot Gobbo
Walter McDowell – Morocco
Larry Mota – Salanio
Christian Muñoz – Bassanio
Richard Nielsen – Antonio
Christian Novotny – Gratiano
Jason Query – Duke of Venice
Rachele Stoops Brown – Nerissa
Rich Sibley – Old Gobbo

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Saturday July 2 *The Taming of the Shrew* Moves to The Haymarket Theatre

Change of venue for tonight's show! 

Flatwater Free Shakespeare's *The Taming of the Shrew* moves indoors for one night! We're at the Haymarket Theatre, 803 "Q" Street in Lincoln, Saturday 7 pm. 

Many thanks to the management of the Haymarket Theatre for sharing their space with us -- the show will go on! 

Please share this information widely! (And buy one of these nifty shirts, too.)

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Final Weekend for *The Taming of the Shrew*

Four more chances to see Flatwater Free Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew and the show's "almost non-stop action with plenty of uninhibited capering and ribald comedy" (Lincoln Journal Star review). 

Bring lawn chairs and insect repellent -- and please consider bringing a donation ($10 suggested per person) to help support the tour. Ivanna Cone has created a new flavor, The Taming of Cashew, for the free ice cream provided at intermission. Show time is 7 pm.

Thursday's performance is at the Lincoln Community Foundation Garden, 215 Centennial Mall South (15th and N Streets). The Garden is located to the west of the LCF building, adjacent to the Korn Popper. Chairs are available at this location.

Friday's show will be at First Plymouth Church (2000 D Street), in the courtyard.

On Saturday, we will be at Woods Park, in the area near L Street and Rogers Memorial Drive.

For Sunday night, the last performance of the run, we will be at James Arthur Vineyards, 2001 W. Raymond Road in Raymond, approximately 10 miles north of Lincoln. JAV is offering concessions during the show, including meat and cheese baskets that can be pre-ordered. Contact the Vineyards at 402-783-5255 or javwines@windstream.net. For further information and directions, visit http://www.jamesarthurvineyards.com/#11/40.9389/-96.7473.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Home Stretch for *The Taming of the Shrew*

Only six more shows left!  Performances at 7 pm. Bring lawn chairs (and bug spray) and, if you wish, the suggested $10 donation. 

Saturday, June 25: Bethany Park, N. 65th & Vine

Sunday, June 26: Trago Park, N. 22nd & U Streets

Thursday, June 30: Lincoln Community Foundation Garden, 15th & N Streets

Friday, July 1: First Plymouth Church, 2000 D Street

Saturday, July 2: Woods Park, S. 33rd & J Streets

Sunday, July 3: James Arthur Vineyards, 2001 W. Raymond Rd., Raymond, NE.

An audience member from last night told us this: "Fantastic performance tonight. Witty, well choreographed, tremendously good acting." See for yourself! 

Also: free Ivanna Cone ice cream at intermission -- the flavor created for this show is Taming of Cashew!

Monday, June 20, 2016

A (Scheduled) Break from the 2016 Tour

The tour of Flatwater Free Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew is taking a scheduled break for a few days. Next stop is Henry Park (S. 44th and Prescott) on Thursday. The weekend's run continues with Cooper Park (S. 6th and D) on Friday, Bethany Park (65th and Vine) on Saturday, and Trago Park (N. 22nd and U) on Sunday. 

Our team's creativity and energy know no bounds: here's a look behind the scenes, by Abbie Austin (Bianca), featuring Tom Crew, who plays our Pedant and percussion for Taming and who is leading our Youth Production of the play (to be staged next month) and who will direct The Merchant of Venice this fall!