Birth of Shylock & the Death of Zero Mostel

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9780880642385: Birth of Shylock & the Death of Zero Mostel

Shakespeare's Shylock in The Merchant of Venice-the epitome of money-grabbing avarice and cruelty-is, Arnold Wesker believes, "a libel on the Jews" and a reflection of Elizabethan racism. Wesker, one of Britain's most revered playwrights, decided to create a counter portrait to the Bard's offensive character by writing his own play, Shylock, in which the Jew is compassionate, intelligent, and deeply moral. John Dexter, the world-renowned director, arranged to have it open on Broadway in 1977 with Zero Mostel in the lead. The play promised to be a great box-office draw, with high advance bookings, thanks to Mostel. But after the first preview in Philadelphia, Mostel fell ill and died within days. The play opened on Broadway with Mostel's understudy, but its momentum had been fatally damaged and it spiraled into disaster. In this extraordinary book, Wesker records how the people involved-including many of New York's cultural elite-interacted in the making, and unmaking, of an extraordinary theatrical event.

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About the Author:

Arnold Wesker is one of Britain's leading dramatists, whose many plays-among them Roots, The Kitchen, and Chips with Everything-are performed all over the world.

From Kirkus Reviews:

A passionate, peppery backstage diary of a play's lifespan, from inception to its star's death and its own demise on Broadway, by the contentious playwright of Chips with Everything. In 1974, after seeing Lawrence Olivier's oy-vey performance in The Merchant of Venice, Wesker decided to rewrite Shakespeare from a pro-Semitic perspective: a cultured, religious Shylock, a bosom friend of the weary Venetian merchant Antonio, who enters into a contract only because of the city law's requirements, but who agrees with Shylock's scheme to make it into ``a nonsense bondto mock the law'' by having a pound of flesh as security. Wesker was unable to get the play produced in London, where his recent track record was spotty and his relations with several theaters disaffected. In a stroke of amazing fortune, New York Broadway producers, the Shuberts, offered to back his Merchant thanks to the interest of a bankable starthe great comedian Zero Mostel. Wesker was also thankful to get his friend John Dexter, who was then based in New York, to direct. Unfortunately, behind the scenes things fall predictably apart as Wesker and Dexter fight over cuts, American actors rankle under British stage tradition, and Mostel overwhelms Wesker's text in an exuberant performance that would be cut short after one night by a heart aneurysm. Wesker airs grievances against his play's fate with the publication of this diary, with its score-settling footnotes. Also, for a book that will appeal mostly to those passionately interested in the stage, Wesker's habit of footnoting the obvious, whether famous figures such as Lindsay Anderson and Robert Bolt or explanations of blocking and notes, is as distracting as someone coughing after the curtain goes up. Although Wesker is a prickly impresario, his vivid, often obsessive record brings to life backstage drama, theater politics, and, finally, tragedy. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Arnold Wesker
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ISBN 10: 0880642386 ISBN 13: 9780880642385
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