It’s a thrill for any theatre-goer to witness a transcendent performance; one that takes your breath away, is burnished on your brain forever, and is anchored not in technique and virtuosity, but in truth. These moments are rare. As a graduate student I remember having the opportunity to see Christopher Walken perform Caligula at the Yale Repertory Theatre. I saw it 15 times. The outline of the underlying performance remained the same, but its nuances changed nightly. Walken would range over the stage exploring the eccentricity and danger of the character with such variety and truth that the audience was unsure if things were truly about to explode (indeed, so did some of his fellow actors on stage). But, in truth, his work was sufficiently controlled to be able to take the performance to the edge and then step back – pacing furiously across the stage, struggling in a quiet rage, finding a moment to pause, and then building back beat by beat to another seemingly irrational and dangerous state. Watching him navigate this journey arriving at the same place at every performance but taking a different route each time was a revelation. It is the essence of the power of live theatre.
For me, such is the gift of F. Murray Abraham’s Shylock in Shakespeare’s MERCHANT OF VENICE playing through April 10th. I hope you agree. Along with Christopher Walken’s Caligula, it’s one the most memorable performances in my decades of theatre-going, and at ArtsEmerson we are honored to have it grace our stage.
Preview F. Murray Abraham in “The Merchant of Venice”