Friday, January 27, 2012

Law and Justice {Week 1 Response}

This semester I'm doing an independent study on "The Law and Justice in Shakespeare," and each week I am planning to write up a short response to one of the many things I'm reading. This week I had a little too much on my plate to get to everything that I read, but one of the chapters really pushed my buttons more than anything else. Here's my response to Kenji Yoshino's chapter on Portia of The Merchant of Venice -- "The Lawyer." It's rather disorganized, and there's so much more that I have to say about it, but for the sake of getting some ideas on the page ... well, here it is. I hope you enjoy my semester of ramblings!

Yoshino’s chapter on Merchant is driving me up the wall. He fixes Portia under the heading of “The Lawyer,” a categorization with which I wholeheartedly disagree. Portia does not advocate for either the plaintiff or the defendant. She offers an opinion on the case according the present statutes of law. This is the action of the judge, not the lawyer.

His desire for a “darker vision” and a “skeptical portrayal of Portia” is frustrating and, I think, completely contradictory to the structure of the play (31). Portia is the hero of this comedy, operating almost a deus ex machina for the titular character. Of course the play does not end happily for Shylock, but Shylock is the comic villain of The Merchant of Venice. And in comedy, the villain is not rewarded, not lauded, not loved -- unless we love to hate him. I would suggest that Shylock, while not rewarded, is treated with some degree of mercy and not only the justice that he so strongly demands.

Justice for Shylock’s actions -- which are indeed an attempt at killing an individual (“manifest proceeding” IV.i) -- would be, as Portia describes, the loss of his property and possibly his life. It is the mercy of the Duke that pardons his life, turns the seizure of his property to a fine, and the mercy of Antonio that turns the other half of his lost property into a “deed of gift” for his daughter and Lorenzo. I do think, from a 21st century sensibility, that the requirement of baptism goes too far and is not a merciful act, but it is not difficult to see that Antonio could certainly see it as mercy.

I would like to contest his reading of “The quality of mercy” at another time, but that would take too much space at present. Something I did find valuable from Yoshino’s chapter is his breakdown of the three tests which divide the play. His division, however, of whose trial each stood for was, for me, more questionable. He classifies the ring test in Act V as a test devised by Portia to entrap Bassanio. I think, however, that this is a test for Portia -- is she able to practice the mercy she’s preached in Act IV?

My sense of this play is that it weighs in balance mercy and justice, the spirit of the law and the letter of the law. I see this as Portia’s struggle throughout the play. The letter of the law does not always take into account the human spirit. This seems to be the lesson that Portia’s father wishes to impart. The casket test is not just for the suitors; it is for Portia as well. She finds a way to operate within the strict construction, the letter of the law, but she nevertheless is able to hint to Bassanio about what the correct choice will be. Does she therefore violate the spirit of the law? I would venture to say no, as who can imagine a father so draconian, who could raise such a daughter as Portia?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Meet Matthew!

I didn't know Matthew at all before he walked into our audition room this past fall. He came in with a quiet assurance, which was really quite striking. Most actors when they "enter the room" have their most gorgeous smile, firm handshake, and a great, vivacious can-do attitude. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about! There was something else about this guy though ... maybe a little Mr. Darcy thing going on. Yeah, you know what I'm talking about!

And this guy could read! It's rare to see and hear such specificity of language in a cold reading. But when someone nails the image of "cowards whose hearts are all as false as stairs of sand", well, I just had to sit up and take extra special notice. Did you catch that image? Stairs.of.sand. It's powerful. Most people will fly right past it. Not Matthew. I suppose if you yourself are a writer, you are more attuned to such powerful imagery.

So you are in for a treat this February. I'm so pleased to welcome Matthew into the company for The Justice Project. We're all looking forward to getting to know this enigmatic gentleman!

(MERCHANT: Bassanio; MEASURE: Claudio, Justice, Officer)


Matthew Castleman has featured in many off-off-broadway productions since graduating from Oberlin College in 2008 with a degree in theatre, playing such roles as Octavius in Man and Superman, Angelo in Measure for Measure, Lussurioso in The Revenger's Tragedy, and the title role in Baal. His study of historical European martial arts has also led him to choreograph fights in a number of plays. When not acting, he has been working on the middle grade adventure novel Popular Clone under the name M.E. Castle, which was released in late January.

Purchase your tickets to The Justice Project online here.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Cast of the Justice Project

You may have already seen my previous post introducing to you one of our company members for the upcoming Justice Project, but I decided that before I go any further with my individual introductions, I'd like to introduce our full cast to you. You know, just to whet your appetite a little.

Our individual intros will continue over the course of the next few weeks. I hope you enjoy meeting our very fine ensemble of actors, and we look forward to seeing you at the performances in February.

Reserve your tickets now through our TicketLeap page here!


Measure: Elbow, Juliet, Boy
Merchant: Nerissa, Leonardo

Measure: Duke
Merchant: Old Gobbo, Salerio, Servant, Gaoler

Measure: Escalus, Francisca
Merchant: Portia

Measure: Claudio, Justice, Officer
Merchant: Bassanio

Measure: 1 Gentleman, Froth, Barnardine, Varrius
Merchant: Shylock

Measure: Pompey, Friar Peter
Merchant: Morocco, Launcelet Gobbo

Measure: Mariana, Friar Thomas, Servant
Merchant: Antonio, Tubal

Measure: Angelo, Mistress Overdone
Merchant: Jessica, Solanio, Duke

Measure: Lucio, Abhorson, 1 Officer
Merchant: Lorenzo, Arragon, Magnifico

Measure: Provost
Merchant: Gratiano

Measure: Isabella, 2 Gentleman
Merchant: Salarino, Balthasar, Stephano

Meet Andi!

I am so pleased to welcome Andi Dema back to the ADK Shakes family. We were incredibly fortunate to have had Andi with us this summer, his first foray into Shakespeare IN THE RAW. And now, he has joined our ranks of RAW Veterans.

This winter Andi is reprising his role from the summer: the incomparable Shylock. I've seen The Merchant of Venice a few times, and I have honestly never seen an interpretation of this character like Andi's. While Andi is sensitive to the few sympathetic moments that Shylock exhibits, he fearlessly takes on the more terrifying aspects of this man. A man filled with pain, with hatred, with a desire for vengeance. You may have loved Al Pacino's Shylock, but I think Andi's Shylock is much more nuanced, more strongly based in Shakespeare's text, and an absolutely bold performance.

Welcome back, Andi!

(MERCHANT: Shylock; MEASURE: 1st Gentleman, Froth, Barnardine, Varrius)

Andi Dema
ADK Shakes: A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Merchant of Venice, Theseus and the Minotaur.

Andi Dema is an Albanian actor who is working with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company for the second time in his career. Favorite roles include Shylock in The Merchant of Venice and Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Adirondack Shakespeare Company; Orlando in As You Like It and Clitandre in The Learned Ladies with the Texas Shakespeare Festival; Cassius in Julius Caesar and Joey Percival in Misalliance with Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park; Jack Tanner in Man and Superman and Capt. Jack Absolute in The Rivals with Theatre OCU. Mr. Dema holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Oklahoma City University.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

When Mercy Seasons Justice

We are quickly getting under way for this winter's Justice Project. It has seemed far away for a long time, but it is rapidly approaching. Last week, we had our read-through of the plays The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure. Ladies and gentlemen, we have an absolutely terrific cast, and I cannot wait to introduce them to you.

Before I begin the series of introductory posts, however, I want to give you all the vitals for these productions. Trust me, you do not want to miss them. We will performing William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure uncut and in repertory for two weekends in February. You can find us in both Queens and Manhattan. We are also very excited to announce a seminar we are running in association with the Law School at St. John's University on Friday, February 17.

You will find in these productions our typical Shakespeare IN THE RAW excitement and method! That means we rehearse only about 12 hours for each show. Yep! The cast has met for our read-through, but we officially begin intensive rehearsal on the evening of Wednesday, February 8 and we open on Friday, February 10. Expect these performances to be immediate, adrenaline-filled, exciting, and RAW. (Of course!) We perform with no sets, minimal costuming and props, and no safety net. Our actors come in fully memorized and prepared to put on a full, professional production of these amazing masterworks.

Friday, February 10 :: Measure for Measure
Saturday, February 11 :: The Merchant of Venice
Saval Auditorium
2nd Floor, Manhattan Campus, SJU
101 Murray St, New York, NY 10007

Friday, February 17 :: Measure for Measure
Saturday, February 18 :: The Merchant of Venice
Moot Court, Belson Hall
2nd Floor, St John's Law School
8000 Utopia Parkway, Jamaica, NY 11439

All performances begin at 7:30 p.m.
Doors open 1/2 hour prior to curtain.
Seating is general admission.


Lindsay Bartlette Allen
Michael Bernstein
Tara Bradway
Matthew Castleman
Andi Dema
Christian Adam Jacobs
Julia Jones
Melanie Arii Mah
Collin McConnell
Lindsay Tanner
Shayna Vercillo
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