Favorite anti-Semites

Mine are definitely Georgette Heyer and Shakespeare. I quit Saki and Dorothy Sayers but still regret them. Heyer and Shakespeare I’ll probably never quit, although I don’t give Heyer to my kids.

Thought about this because I tried to watch New Ohio Theatre’s Shylock and the Shakespeareans last week on Vimeo. It was good. So good, in fact, that I couldn’t get past the first act and it still irks me like a splinter a week later. If they keep it online I may try to get back to it, or just watch the end, for closure.

It’s not-quite-a-remake of the Merchant of Venice. Separate play about the same events, in a more modern (but equally imaginary) time and place. It’s hilarious (I loved entitled and clueless Portia and her maid) in that instantly-recognizable Jewish “a funny thing happened on the way to the gas chambers” style. Unlike every other modern Merchant of Venice this play leans hard into the anti-Semitism. It’s a play about Shakespeare as anti-Semite and about living with anti-Semitism all around one.

It’s like inhabiting two realities at once – one in which I’m a rich educated white woman in the most liberal place on Earth with all the privileges pertaining to this status, in a world that’s getting more and more liberal (it is, really) every year, AI making the world even more user-friendly, medicine improving, Juneteenth finally a Federal holiday, major scientific advances in clean energy… And another reality in which the Earth is burning, resources are becoming more scarce, and people who literally want to kill me and my kids are more and more powerful and violent.

Switching from one to the other is like switching from the duck to the rabbit, except the rabbit wants to kill you.

Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812

I’ve been wanting to see this musical for the longest time, and lucked out – a friend told me it’s on Friday. There were only a few dates left, and only one that I could actually make in this overscheduled month (seriously – it’s more of a social whirl than I’ve had in years, including pre-COVID years).

So, me and Younger Kid went the very next day.

It was awesome. Totally worth the hour drive.

The 3Below theater was new to me – intimate, well laid-out, and located inside a parking lot. There was no parking, due to the FanimeCon, but that’s ok, because we got to see the convention-goers, and they were beautiful. There were also no fancy desserts, despite a really cool ice-cream concoction being listed in the online menu, but we made do with popcorn.

The play itself was everything I wanted – energetic, with light, cheerful, and memorable music and a good-faith approach to War and Peace. The opera scene was particularly good – the opera was exactly the way Tolstoy described it (that is, completely removed from the usual opera experience and seen with deliberately naive eyes.). Natasha was beautiful and innocent. Sonia’s song brought me to tears. Anatole was perfect for his role and looked (per kid) like Elon Musk. Andrey looked like the Best Marriage Party In Russia and was hilarious as Old Bolkonsky.

Everyone moved in and out of multiple parts with graceful ease, rarely even changing costume. They just showed distinct personalities and functions with a slight change in posture and facial expression because that’s just how good they are. Each performer got a main singing role with at least one good song, a part in the ensemble, a part as one of the musicans, and a part as furniture so that Helene also played the violin, while Princess Mary portrayed an opera singer, a dancer, and a maid. Kuragin, Dolohov, and Balaga moved furniture and offered hands as needed. Everyone delivered letters.

Both Bezuhoffs were made up to look too old for their roles, and seemed more contemporaries of Ahrosimova than of Andrey, let alone Natasha, but Helene had a Bosom that fully conformed with my imagination, a wanton red dress, and a beautiful voice.

Quotes were used appropriately and often. Stereotypes were amusing and not mean-spirited. Costumes were period-accurate-enough without being distracting or overdone. Dancing was enthusiastic and good (especially Balaga’s). Scene design was clever – particularly all the staircases, and the way decorations suddenly changed color from light wood to gold when a mood called for it.

Despite the sad subject matter (there’s Lost Love, Attempted Suicide, and Ethical Struggles) Pierre, Natasha, and the Great Comet of 1812 was just sheer exhilarating fun, a pleasure to remember. I wish I had the time to see it again.