The Quality of Mercy is Not Strain’d

Yesterday night I went to see The Merchant of Venice at the Public Theater in New York. Shakespeare in the Park is a free program in New York (and many other cities have similar programs). To get tickets, people wait in line for hours and hours. I, for instance, arrived in line at 5:15 in the morning on Monday morning. And as you might expect in New York City, the line is a stressful place. There are security guards who monitor to make sure people don’t skip in line, and there are almost never enough tickets for everyone who wants them on a given night. But if you get tickets, the payoff is fantastic. This year’s production of Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock has gotten rave reviews, and as far as I’m concerned, it did not disappoint. (If you don’t live in New York or can’t make it to the theater, I highly recommend the feature film version of 2004, also starring Pacino.)

If you’ve read or seen Merchant of Venice before, you know that one of the main themes of the play is revenge, and how pointless and harmful it is. You’d never know it from what went down at intermission, though.

One row behind me, in the very back row of the outdoor theater, was a large group of 5-7 people. One row in front of me was a single woman, traveling alone. During intermission the group, particularly one guy, began harassing the single woman, saying she had cut in line and should not have received a ticket to the show. The harassment got so bad that they were actually screaming “Shame! Shame! Shame!” The woman in question was trying to argue with them, which was a particularly poor choice, as they were not inclined to have a reasonable conversation, and she didn’t seem to have any good points to make.

I have no idea if the woman jumped the line or not. Undoubtedly, some people do and get away with it. Is it fair? Of course not. Is the appropriate response to be an enormous asshat and cause a spectacle at intermission, thus making everyone around you uncomfortable and annoyed? No.

Watching the insanity go down, I wanted to scream, “Has anyone been paying attention to the play, for the love of God? Doesn’t anybody want to consider taking the high road??”

In the end, an usher felt so bad for the girl that she was moved to a better, closer seat. The angry group was still fuming when they left the theater after the play.

Though the play is a comedy, it was played with an incredibly tragic tone, and I left the theater sad about the play, and about people in general.

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The play and the Jews.