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Thus, it is not really a surprise that she would embrace directing the world premiere of Sarah B. Mantell’s “Everything That Never Happened.” A sideways look at “The Merchant of Venice” from the perspective of Shylock and Jessica, it becomes a discussion of culture, erasure, revenge, and the normalization of inequality which offers a countermeasure to the antisemitic overtones of the Bard’s original.
In “Everything…” Mantell has eschewed the Elizabethan language as she propels us into the world of Jessica, the Jewish daughter of moneylender Shylock, who is being wooed by the Christian Lorenzo. As their non-Jewish servant, Gobbo, looks on and occasionally collaborates, Jessica must figure out what matters to her most.
What she sees in Lorenzo is freedom, not only from the oppression of being a Jew in Venice, but from the rigid limitations her faith places on her behaviors. Shylock, on the other hand, finds his pride in his culture – a buffer against a larger community which puts his people in a ghetto and spits upon him even as they beg for the money he lends. What will remain, and what be washed away, as these strong personalities pull apart?
Leo Marks gives a gravitas to Shylock, quietly strong and innately sure of his direction – a stance which gives Jessica’s eventual betrayal the aspect of an inner earthquake: subtle and devastating. As Jessica, Erika Soto moves from romantic dreamer to shaken realist in incremental steps grounded in identity and a gradual realization of the cost of her dreams.
Paul Culos gives Lorenzo the casual command of a man unaware of the extent of his unearned privilege: romantic, somewhat devious, and sure he will get his way. Dylan Saunders’ Gobbo is a truly Shakespearean servant, observant and protective in practical ways uncluttered by the cultural frameworks he stands firmly between.
Kubzansky gets these people, and the literal undercurrent of the play, as rivers and canals flow by, an echo of the passage of time and of the things which can overwhelm us. Francois-Pierre Couture’s minimalist set creates a sense of space, storage for quickly shifting scenic elements, and even waterways where there are none. Jaymi Lee Smith’s lighting delineates space and time, and John Nobori’s sound design, sometimes intentionally overwhelming, hints at great tides to come.
Still, it is the play itself, which manages to be linear and nonlinear all at once, that underscores the points Shakespeare didn’t bother to make: the locked gates of the ghettos, the dangers of revenge in a world suspicious of closed societies, the entire undercurrent of otherness which made Shylock at once an easy target and an unacknowledged tragedy.
“Everything…” happens fast. The play is only an hour and 25 minutes long. Still, within that time there are the seeds of awareness, and by the time the Kaddish is sung, what has been lost by the events of that other play happening in their background has a rich profundity.
What: “Everything That Never Happened” When: through November 4, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays How Much: $20 – $39 Info: 626-683-6801 or http://www.BostonCourtPasadena.org
In the play, which makes its west coast premiere with this production, one woman’s home space becomes the crossroad for three women and one man dealing with the daily struggles and priority changes inherent in both the process of having and bringing home a first child.
Jessie Gelb, a young lawyer on leave, invites her neighbor Lina for coffee in her back yard, desperate to talk to another new mother in a commuter suburb of New York. Lina, from south shore Long Island, is everything Jessie is not – rough around the edges, plain talking, and dependent upon the largess of the alcoholic mother-in-law with whom she lives.
As they bond over the joys and struggles of the first few months of motherhood – baby monitors in hand – their peaceful retreat is invaded by a seemingly desperate, wealthy stranger. He has been watching their meetings from his pricey cliffside home, and envies the bond they have formed. This, in turn, leads to a brief encounter with his wife, a woman whose experience of new motherhood is on a different spectrum from Jessie’s and Lina’s.
Jackie Chung is Jessie, making her a neat balance of anxious vulnerability and growing confidence. Chung’s nuanced emotional palate sets a tone of realism which makes the play connect so internally with those who watch. Megan Ketch’s Lina brings a passion and brassy humor set again in the real, underscoring the two characters’ bond – one they would probably not have in circumstances other than new motherhood – by never giving in to easy attitudes.
Brian Henderson’s briefer appearance as the somewhat panicked Mitchell, offers a compelling look at what happens when idealized hopes and less than ideal realities collide. There is a wistfulness in his portrayal of his character’s lack of observational acuity, which underscores his role as outsider. Emily Swallow’s powerful, disquieting Adrienne – Mitchell’s wife – will spur discussions of class, character, and priority, even in in one’s own head, and brings a needed sharpness to what could otherwise become a more predictable play.
Director Lindsay Allbaugh truly understands these people, and makes this dialogue-heavy piece fill with movement and moments of visual intensity which give it power. Francois-Pierre Couture’s seemingly simple set design, combined with Rose Malone’s subtle lighting changes, give a sense of season and openness which flesh in, and humanize, the tale.
“Cry It Out” – a title superficially referencing the debate about whether to leave babies to cry themselves to sleep – is a play of priorities and impressions, of empathy and disconnect. These characters face the choices many new parents face in the modern world, few of which are easy. Funny, wrenching, and achingly recognizable as truth, the play will definitely leave an impression, and one worth mulling over.