Butterfield 8 delivers a great "Merchant of Venice" and The American Musical Theatre of San Jose thrills their audience with a fantastic "Full Monty"!

The Merchant of Venice brings standing ovations to Concord theatre company!

The Butterfield “8” Theatre Company is currently presenting a truly excellent and very nearly professional level production of William Shakespeare’s masterpiece, “The Merchant of Venice”, in a little cabaret style theatre venue in downtown Concord, called Cue Productions Live.

It seems funny to me that Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” should be listed with his “Comedies”. I have always equated it with a terrible tragedy, that a one man’s greed should cost him his relationship with his family, his fortune, and eventually his life. At the same time, another man allows his love and admiration for a young friend and the young friend’s dream, to convince him to risk his own life and fortune with a foolish and risky guarantee. Certainly, the play has its moments of comic relief, but for the most part it is a sad tale of two older men, a Venetian merchant, Antonio, wise in the frailties of life, and a money lender, a Jew, known as Shylock. Woven into this disparaging and brilliantly written tale, lies another tale of two younger men, Bassanio, a young nobleman who is bereft of wealth, but is passionately in love with the beautiful and financially secure Portia. The other young man, Lorenzo, an equally poor suitor, is in love with Jessica, the daughter of the Jewish money lender (Shylock).

I had to do a little research to discover that as far back as 16th century, in medieval England (especially among the middle and lower classes), the Jewish businessmen’s shrewd business acumen, their common Jewish business practice of usury, and their strict religious rules, constantly made them the butt of Elizabethan jokes. To make fun of Jews and Catholics alike, who were not trusted by the British common populace, was simply considered appropriate comedy at that time. Other nationalities, such as Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German, French or Spanish were also made fun of by the British theatre. Hence, a story primarily about a “Jew” was described simply as a “Comedy”.

Originally the play was known as “The Jew of Venice” (1596) and was in many ways lifted directly from Christopher Marlowe’s play of that same time frame, “The Jew of Malta” (1592). However, there is a huge contrast between Marlowe’s presentation of his Jewish protagonist, Barnabas, and Shakespeare’s presentation of his protagonist, Shylock. Barnabas’ character was a comic villain, savagely belabored through great ridicule. Shakespeare’s Shylock is humanized and chastised, but his characterization describes Shylock as a man genuinely wronged. “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is?” Yes, Shylock is a sad character, eventually a man to be pitied by the audience. Because of Shakespeare’s great humanization of Shylock, he has become one of the greatest recognized and sympathized villains of all Shakespearean characters.

I love Shakespeare’s great command of language and understanding of human nature. His poetry is a work of pure art. This play has to be one of my favorite Shakespearean plays for many reasons. This particular production is a surprisingly strong work although it is presented by amateur actors, people who have to work at full time jobs to earn their living before they can engage in their love of theatrical art, before they can present to you their heart and souls in the words and actions prescribed by one of the world’s greatest playwrights.

Director John Butterfield, whom I have praised many times over the years, has carefully selected a dedicated and hardworking group of talented thespians to deliver pure gold in this simple but articulate production to you, their audience.

Alan Cameron is an outstanding actor whom I have had the privilege of knowing for my entire 23 years as a theatre reviewer. Generally he has portrayed light-hearted, up-beat characters, in musicals and comedies. When I read that he was going to portray this tarnished villain, Shylock, I thought, wow! - - - this is going to be a real stretch for a superb musical actor. Alan would have to be able to reach down far enough into the darkness of soul, to be reborn as the detestable Shylock. Could he do it, I asked myself? The answer is - - - an unequivocal and resounding “yes”! It is a brilliant performance, one of the most honest I have seen anywhere, anytime.

In addition, Donald L. Hardy, another actor I have praised on several occasions, did equally well, delivering a searing, heart-felt performance as “Bassanio’s greatest friend”, Antonio. A young actor, Nick Wong, from the Antioch Classic Theatre group likewise pulled me up short with a most believable Bassanio. When he delivers the classic and heartfelt ode to his dearest friend, Antonio, just before Antonio is about to be relieved of a pound of flesh “nearest the heart”, Bassanio exclaims to Antonio, “But life itself, my wife, and all the world are not with me esteemed above your life. I would lose all, ay, sacrifice them all, here to this devil (Shylock), to deliver you!”

Portia and the young learned doctor (a judge), Balthasar, who adjudicates the trial over Shylock’s demand for his bond (the pound of flesh), is played in stellar fashion by Elizabeth A. Bell. Elizabeth’s transition from young lover, Portia, excited over receiving Bassanio as her future husband, to her role as Balthasar, a character in which we find her disguised as a fictitious young judge, is really quite excellent.

There are many other actors in the cast, far too many for me to name specifically and grant Kudos to in the brief space I have before me. I must again state that director John Butterfield has delivered a remarkable theatrical event, with very little money, in the most meager of theatrical settings. This is obviously a labor of love by all involved, a production that I came away from more pleased than I could have imagined. Try it, I believe if you like Shakespeare, if you love theatre for the art that it is, then you will certainly enjoy this production.

“The Merchant of Venice” plays on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday performances at 3 p.m., closing with a Thursday performance on October 9th at 8 p.m., in the Cue Productions Live, at 1835 Colfax Street, in Concord, just one block east of Todos Santos Park. Tickets are only $12 for seniors and students, and $18 for all other adults. Call the Community Box Office Network at 798-1300 or visit www.willowstickets.org or you can purchase tickets at the door. More information is available at www.b8company.com.

The Full Monty receives rave accolaids from its audience!

The American Musical Theatre of San Jose is presenting a hilarious, harmonious, happy evening of musical theatre with their outstanding production of Terrance McNally and David Yazbek’s interpretation of the crowd-pleasing, Academy Award nominated movie, “The Full Monty”.

In 1997, a British comedy movie by the same name, The Full Monty, was released which introduced us to a group of unemployed steel workers in the industrial and manufacturing center of Sheffield England, who decided to put on a one night strip show, where they (a bunch of common working guys) stripped down to a basic G-string attire, like Chippendale stripper dancers, to make a sizeable amount of money for their one night show. This highly successful movie set the stage for the American musical version that transported the working guys from the idled British Steel mills in Sheffield England, to the rusting American steel mills in Buffalo, New York.

The Full Monty, a new American musica,l opened on October 26th 2000, at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York, and was a huge success. It was nominated for 9 Tony Awards and 11 Drama Desk awards.

The story speaks to a number of issues that include unemployment, fathers’ rights, depression, impotence and attempted suicide. One of the men is Jerry Lukowsky (Jim Newman), a father who is unable to pay his child support (largely because of his ongoing unemployment), and who is about to lose shared custody of his child, Nathan (Ryan Ballard or Tony Sinclair) to his ex-wife, Pam (Jessica Raaum). While walking down the street with his son, he witnesses a group of women outside a working men’s club, standing in line, willing to pay handsomely to watch several male-strippers, called Chippendales. Jerry gets what he thinks is a great idea. “What have these guys got, that we (he and his steel working buddies) don’t have?”

His closest buddy is a really big guy, Dave Bukatinsky (Eric Leviton), who just cannot see himself nearly nude. He has gotten so large that he doesn’t even let his wife, Georgie (Sheri Sanders), see him nude. While she loves him deeply, their marriage is on the rocks because of Dave’s withdrawal from his wife, due in large part to what he perceives as her shame in him and his shame in himself, for continuing to be unemployed and for becoming so obese. All of the guys in the plant, which shut down 6 months earlier, are getting pretty desperate, financially. They can’t pay the bills, their wives are now supporting them, and while this idea that Jerry has presented to them seems to be pretty “nuts”, they show up for this all male, bump-N-grind show auditions.

Six guys make it through the trials and tribulations of the initial run-throughs, the dancing lessons, the pelvic thrusts, the striptease choreography, and are yet hardly what you would call buff and tuff! They do their darnedest to make it work, but try as they may, it just doesn’t seem that they are going to be ready by opening night. There are many twists and turns (and I don’t mean the dancing), and the story is a really great story of men learning to survive hard times and tough egos.

When the big day finally comes, the guys are out trying to sell tickets to the local women but the gals aren’t buying tickets. Then, in desperation and announcement is made that their group of guys are better than the Chippendale guys, because they are going to strip “the whole way” or go “The Full Monty”. With that word out on the street, the local women begin buying tickets like mad, in their excitement to see if the local guys they know and love, really have the guts to go “The Full Monty”. The men aren’t sure about this idea either, but you will have to see the show, to find out if they do in fact go“The Full Monty”.

The show is great, the guys are great, the music is great and the sets, scenery, costumes and choreography are really great. “The Full Monty” is a wild and crazy show that is a pure delight, a terrific theatrical experience that will keep you laughing and hanging onto your seat. The music is really great story telling music, memorable music that you will probably sing and hear in your mind for days afterwards.

Director Stephen Bourneuf and musical director Barbara Day Turner have done a superlative job in finding actors who have really terrific voices and musicians who can deliver the goods! This production plays this Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m., with the final Sunday performance on September 28th at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.. That’s right, this is a very short run with the show closing this coming weekend! Tickets range between $20 and $75 depending on the night and the seating. The drive to San Jose only takes us between 45 and 55 minutes, we normally go to Scotts Seafood Restaurant across the street from the theater, have dinner, then walk across the street to the theater, then zip home after the show. Call (888) 455-SHOW (7469) for tickets or visit the website for more information at www.amtsj.org.
The American Musical Theatre of San Jose is located in the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts at 255 Almaden Blvd., in downtown San Jose. This musical is flat out terrific, pluperfect in every respect. Do not miss this musical!