Saturday, August 24, 2019

Not All Democrat Documentaries Are the Same

Beto O'Rourke in Running with Beto (2019).

The following piece contains reviews of Running with Beto (2019), Knock Down the House (2019), and Time for Ilhan (2018).

In the spirit of our political age, I watched three political documentaries about prominent progressive American politicians (I vote Democrat, for what it’s worth); hagiographies they may be, but they still evince various degrees of insight.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Rarities at Stratford and the Shaw Festival: Nathan the Wise, Sex, and Rope

Diane Flacks (centre) with members of the company in Nathan the Wise. (Photo: David Hou)

Nathan the Wise by the German Enlightenment playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (it was written in 1779) is so seldom performed that I’d never heard of it until Canada’s Stratford Festival elected to produce it this summer. It’s a fable, set in ancient Jerusalem, with more narrative complications than a Shakespearean romance. The title character (played by Diane Flacks) is a wealthy Jew who has used his fortune to maintain friendly relations with the powerful Muslim and Catholic forces in the city, represented respectively by the young Sultan, Saladin (Danny Ghantous), and the old Patriarch (Harry Nelken). When Nathan returns from a business trip, Daya (Sarah Orenstein), the Christian woman who manages his household and takes care of his daughter Rachel (Oksana Sirju), tells him that Rachel was rescued from a fire by an itinerant Knight Templar (Jakob Ehman) with whom she has fallen in love. The Knight Templar, a soldier in the service of the Catholic Church, has also won the affection of the Sultan, who slaughtered his fellows – prisoners captured in the holy war between the Christians and the Muslims – but spared his life because he looks so much like Saladin’s long-lost brother. The story is a series of revelations of the true identities of the characters, not just the Knight Templar but also Rachel, and of Nathan’s own past. And of course, it’s a plea for tolerance in which two of the three voices of racial hatred – Saladin and the Knight Templar – prove to be capable of crossing the boundaries that separate Christians, Muslims and Jews. The Patriarch, who at one point advocates burning Nathan at the stake, is the third, and he doesn’t alter his point of view.