Nathan the Wise | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Nathan the Wise 

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This lovely little show is like a Shakespeare comedy set to Rimsky-Korsakov's Sheherazade, full of wise and generous leaders, beautiful young couples, comic relief, and easily averted trouble. Or perhaps it's a counter to The Merchant of Venice, since the wrath of Jew haters is turned away by a soft answer and a Jew's daughter clings to her father rather than seeking to escape from him to Christianity. In any case, the Chicago Festival of the Arts' debut production--Paul D'Andrea's adaptation of Gotthold Lessing's 18th-century play about the Crusades, set in Jerusalem during the 12th-century reign of the tolerant sultan Saladin--is the best Christmas show you're likely to see this year, full of peace on earth and goodwill toward everyone. David Darlow is the perfect Nathan, a Jewish merchant modeled on the scholar Maimonides: as the still heart of the action, Darlow looks like a Chagall rabbi or the Moses that Cecil B. De Mille should have had in mind. Scott Aiello is elfin as Al-Hafi, a Muslim court treasurer in love with Nathan's Christian servant, played by Susan Gosdick, who delivers malapropisms with utter aplomb, completely convincing us she's "the prawn of fate." Through 12/31: Wed-Sat 8 PM, Sun 2:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, 773-327-5252, $33-$40.

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