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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at The Duke at 42nd St., New York

By Jessica Branch

  F. Murray Abraham

Pity Marlowe's poor Jew of Malta, doomed always to play evil twin to Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, with the gleefully malicious Barabas as the unreconstructed before to Shylock's humanized Shakespearized after. Theatre for a New Audience's rotating repertory productions may aspire to make Jew more than the grotesque funhouse reflection of its staider sibling, but only distorts Marlowe's hyperbolic revenge tragicomedy even more.

With its burlesque cleavage, slapstick laughs, gouts of gore and broadly played stock characters, David Herskovits rambunctious production gets the gaudy pageantry and vulgar energy of Marlowe's slapdash, boisterous play, and he's careful to emphasize how buffoonish and corrupt Barabas's victims almost all) are. Too, he's got a keen sense of how engaging a stage presence Barabas can be, chortling happily over his evil stratagems and sharing his sarcastic asides with an audience of accomplices.

Perhaps it's the contaminating influence of Merchant, perhaps it's F. Murray Abraham's singular talent for humanizing even the most diabolical protagonist, but Barabas, in this production, takes on a human stature that unbalances the play's dog-eat-dog downward spiral. While some of Barabas's villainy is motivated- the murder of the Governor of Malta's son avenges the Governor's commandeering of all his goods; his poisoning of an entire order of nuns is meant to ensure that his novitiate daughter won't betray his crimes - many more are just cartoonish, exuberant excesses of evil. "Sometimes I go about and poison wells," he boasts, and the apocalyptic frenzy the play reaches, with scenes ever swifter and bloodier, illustrate a malice as impartial as the justice Portia decries. A comprehensible, even sometimes sympathetic Barabas, surrounded by caricatures of venal Gentiles becomes something too akin to a poor simulacrum of Shylock, not the charismatic psychopath who becomes the scourge and symbol of his degraded society.


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