Through October 11
NATHAN THE WISE Studio Theatre/Stratford Festival
Itís implausible and unlikely but ďNathan The WiseĒ is a fascinating show.
Itís set during the Third Crusade at the court of the Ottoman Sultan Saladin (Danny Ghantous) in Jerusalem.
Heís the sultan who battled Richard the Lionheart, as the Crusader kingdom fell apart, under Muslim pressure and incompetent Crusader leadership.
This is a Jerusalem which remembers the mass killings when the Christians took the Holy City.
Saladin is ruling over a steaming pot of a city, a mix of all the religions of the time and, perhaps, some concern about how much he can trust his own people and military.
Itís even a city where the sultan has delegated control of Christians to the Patriarch (Harry Nelken), who has the power of life and death.
You have to think of Pontius Pilate.
The 1779 play from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in Edward Kempís translation is a symbol of religious tolerance, especially among the Abrahamic religions.
The most prominent Jew in Jerusalem is Nathan (Diane Flacks), a merchant with far-ranging business interests across the Middle East and a reputation as a truly brilliant thinker and a good man.
He returns from a trip to Baghdad to discover his home has burned and a wandering Templar (Jakob Ehman) had rescued his daughter, Rachel (Oksana Sirju), from the flames.
He finds the sultan had personally saved the Templar from a mass execution of his brothers and left the Templar to wander Jerusalem.
A friend of Nathan, Al-Hafi (Shelly Antony), is a Dervish, an Islamic branch, and the comptroller of the Sultanís household at a time when finances are tight because a gold shipment hasnít made it from Egypt.
Al-Hafi suggests the sultan borrow the needed cash from Nathan and explains how trusted and wise he is in the Jewish community.
From here, the story gets too complicated to recap (and the performance runs three hours) and itís deeply philosophical.
This a classic German play and itís been translated and re-translated in the West.
The one key problem is itís a time and a place which few know much about and will be skeptical about things like Saladin and Richard playing chess in the middle of violent times.
It apparently did happen, as they bargained the future of the Holy Land and the Holy Places.
The audience in the Studio Theatre clearly knew something about the time and the place and understood what was going on.
The key performances are Lacks, Ghantous, Ehman and smaller parts from Nelken and Ron Kennellís Brother Bonafides.
Director Birgit Schreyer Duarte has an effective design from Teresa Przybylski to tell Lessingís story.
Itís worth seeing.
As an aside, if you have any mobility issues and you wish to see ďNathan The Wise,Ē ask for a low row because the space will remind you of the former Court House Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake and its steep pitch.
In these times, being wise about religion isnít such a bad thing.
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