A Muslim Shylock in a post-9/11 world? Peculiarly, that is what Indian-American playwright Shishir Kurup’s proposes in Silk Road Theatre Project’s world premiere of his “Bard meets Bollywood,” freely adapted Hindu vs. Muslim version of Shakespeare’s already problematic and many feel anti-Semitic “The Merchant of Venice.” Such a cross-cultural transposition might work if Kurup had made Shylock a Parsi or Zoroastrian, a tiny Persian religious minority in India that, like Jews in Europe, were so discriminated against that they had no property rights and therefore became accountants and bankers. But there is a severe credibility problem with a Muslim moneylender in that the Quran expressively forbids charging or paying interest of any kind; kind of like if the Bard had made Jewish Shylock, say, a pig farmer. It also doesn’t help in a day and age where you can YouTube real beheadings by Islamic extremists that “Sharuk” (Anish Jethmalani) is costumed like an al-Qaeda recruit poster and screams and shouts that he wants his pound of flesh. When that climactic moment does come, Shakespeare’s familiar finale is ditched and detoured for a change of heart and a sudden Hindu sermon on the co-dependency of the universal soul to the individual soul. Dramaturgically, this would be like inserting a Christian “Love your neighbor” speech into the Bard’s original, since Jews—or in this case, Muslims—apparently need Christian (or Hindu, respectively) help to be able to do that. That level of insight makes the Shakespeare’s original seem like a treatise on tolerance by comparison. (Dennis Polkow)
At the Chicago Temple Building, 77 W. Washington, (888)745-5849. This production is now closed.