Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Interreligious

On the way to Classic Stage Company for their production of Lessing's "Nathan the Wise," passed by what remains of St. Ann's Shrine - one of perhaps only two sites in Manhattan which was home to Catholic, Protestant and Jewish congregations at different times. (Along with Baptists, Congregation Emannu-El and Armenian Catholics, it also housed a theater, and an upholstery factory.) Now all that remains is the landmarked tower, the unlandmarked rest having been skilfully stripped away by real estate lawyers for NYU, which built that wall of a dorm right behind it. I took this picture to get the reflected lights, so it's not optimal for showing that this is now a freestanding portal to nowhere (there is no space beween the six-storey brick building and the NYU hulk), its doors permanently shut. (I have some pictures somewhere of its demolition in 2005, predating this blog; I'll post them if I find them.)

As for "Nathan the Wise," well, I should be happy it's being performed in America at all, and it's a pleasing plea for religious comity, and so as timely as ever. But I'm spoiled by familiarity (and indeed love), and having seen a spectacular production in the original German (one of Georg Peymann's first at the Burgtheater in Vienna). This production frames it as a play which a slightly fractious group of friends (against an unexplained photo of a ruined contemporary streetscape, perhaps in Syria) puts on, but that takes the danger out of it - and the hope which comes from Nathan's ability, through gentleness and reason, to tame the prejudice and hatred around him. to make real friends of what had been real enemies. (Bizarrely, the director describes Saladin's putting Nathan on the spot with the question of the true religion as a way "to ease tensions"!) This production fits better with the second part of the story, in which revelations prove that people aren't what they seem to be, that we are all already one family, though we don't appreciate it.

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