Review Roundup: DER KAUFMANN; Show Closes 10/19
According to Giselle Garcia, the production's dramaturg, "In staging 'The Merchant of Venice' in Nazi period Germany, we're interrogating anti-Semitism and anti-homosexuality as we see it today. We are forced to question our own apathetic worldviews, questioning what we see and why we believe what we believe. And more importantly, try to understand why we hate, why we kill and how we create suffering."
Tanghalang Pilipino's seemingly radical take on "The Merchant of Venice" is not meant to condemn any race for atrocities committed in the past; it is meant to underscore the artists' continuing commitment to advocating respect for human rights, equality, justice, mercy and forgiveness.
Tuxqs Rutaquio, Lou Veloso, Tracy Quila and Trixie Esteban star.
Rody Vera and Rutaquio share directing chores.
The production runs until Saturday, October 19 at Tanghalang Huseng Batute, Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Let's see what the critics had to say:
Jessica Zafra: In Tanghalang Pilipino's production of Rody Vera's Der Kaufmann ("merchant" in German), this comedy is hilarious only to the Nazis. We are riveted, unsettled and horrified as Nazi officers and guards force their Jewish prisoners to perform Shakespeare's play. A gay man is arrested and the text of the play shoved into his hand-he must play Antonio, the titular merchant whose love for Bassanio moves him to guarantee a loan from the reviled Jewish moneylender Shylock. On pain of torture, a Jewish father must portray Shylock, who lends Bassanio 3,000 ducats on one condition: If the debt is not repaid on time, the penalty is one pound of Antonio's flesh.
Bassanio, as performed by a Nazi officer, pays court to the blonde heiress Portia in perfectly Aryan Belmont. A Jewish prostitute is press-ganged into playing Shylock's daughter Jessica (Shakespeare invented the name, apparently), who elopes with the gentile Lorenzo, played by a Nazi officer. Each actor essays two roles connected by the text, and as the play goes on these roles merge cruelly, brilliantly, into one. The play constantly twists and turns on itself, questioning Shakespeare, questioning history, challenging our fond notions about the theatre. You do not need to be familiar with Shakespeare's play to grasp the persecution of the Jews or the sadism of the Nazis. All you have to be is human. (Well, an educated human with some knowledge of the Holocaust.)
Vladimir Bunoan, ABS-CBNNews.com: ...historical evidence show that the Nazis have mounted productions of "The Merchant of Venice" as part of their propaganda against the Jews.
But, as Vera pointed out in his program notes, such depiction is probably the closest to Shakespeare's original intent. It has been documented that actors traditionally portray Shylock as "a repulsive clown or, alternatively, as monster of unrelieved evil."
And this is what makes "Der Kaufmann" both compelling and horrifying. Vera turns the tables on the Bard, while still supposedly adhering to Shakespeare's own intent. By playing the work for laughs, "The Merchant of Venice" becomes an act of cruelty in itself. Shakespeare's own words gain a whole new meaning, from Antonio's opening lament, ""In sooth I know not why I am so sad," to the play's most famous "Hath not a Jew eyes" speech by Shylock. Portia's monologue about "the quality of mercy" is reduced to political double-speak (and delivered with a cold, condescending tone by Regina de Vera).
Walter Ang, Philippine Daily Inquirer: Rutaquio's set design, a two-tiered enclosure with wire fences, repurposed from last season's "Walang Kukurap," is a cold, creepy setting that twists Tanghalang Huseng Batute's usually intimate vibe into a constricting concentration camp. John Batalla's lighting design and TJ Ramos' sound design add harshness and anxiety to the mix.