|John Christopher Jones and F. Murray Abraham (photo: Richard Termine)|
|The Parable of the Three Rings, by Boccaccio (in Polish?) (illustrator: Joana Rusinek)|
Shakespeare's plays can of course be shortened, but most directors don't fudge on the language, and the St. Anne's productions truly brought home the brilliance of Shakespeare. But Lessing in translation can of course be "updated" and thereby avoid the ponderosities of the play's text. And "the message" comes through very clearly, which is no doubt what Lessing intended: war is terrible, but worse when motivated by religious differences. (The huge backdrop alternated between an Arabic text –– the Koran? –– and a contemporary photo of a bombed Jerusalem street.)
Lessing may have intended to present the common humanity of people of all faiths, but this production presented us not with "Menschen" in the abstract, Enlightenment sense, but with real "Menschen" in the Yiddish sense, especially in the performances of F. Murray Abraham as Nathan and Austin Durant as Saladin. Perhaps this aspect could only be pulled off in New York City. If you find yourself not quite crediting the platitudinous sentiments expressed in the original play, so, too, the characters on the stage at CSC. The translation goes for humor. I wonder if German productions could take similar liberties and work so well.
And while I sat dreading the moment when the Templar discovered his true relationship with Rachel, I found the transformation from lover to brother convincing. But what, I ask myself, was Lessing thinking with this last-moment turn of events? Edward Kemp has a very nice discussion of Lessing on his website.
Picture credits: Richard Termine; Striped Dot Studio