Sunday, October 28, 2007

Merchant on Venice

Just saw Merchant on Venice by Shishir Kurup as part of the Silk Road Series. It was an amazing performance and a great piece of writing.

It is a take on Merchant of Venice but is set in the present, in Los Angles, CA, among the Indian community. It takes on a host of subjects but mainly focuses on the Muslim-Hindu animosity as portrayed by Sharuk (Shylok) and Devendra (Antonio). There is also a subplots of Muslim and Latio love, homosexual love, male chauvinism, religious bigotry, Indian stereotypes, banality of Bollywood, post 9-11 American and of course the requisite bash against the current American administration (I sense like there is a cabal among playwrights intent on reminding their audience that the current administration is bad).

The play has an amazing set of cultural and historical references (you have to know your history and current events) and if you are of South Asian decent, loads of ethnic references.

As a Malayalee I just could not stop laughing when the character Tooranpoi (should be Thruanpoi, translation - went to defecate) burst into the scene and dropped a host of references and innuendos that only a Malayalee can relate too. The actor Tariq Vasudeva did a very good job with Tooranpoi.

On the serious side, Kurup brings out the Muslim-Hindu hostility in a intelligent manner and exposes the idiotic premises of each side for the hatred of one another. Sharuk gives a emotional monologue about Muslim mistreatment by the hands of non Muslims but Kurup, like other playwrights mangles historical facts to make a dramatic statement.

He does not specifically state whether Sharuk is a Shiite or Sunni. I think this is important because history has shown that more Muslims have been persecuted by Muslims (Sunnis persecuting Shiites) than by non Muslims. This fact undermines Sharuk's stance and to an extent takes the wind out of Kurup's theme for this play.

Aside from that, you have got to see this if you love witty, intelligent dialog.

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