A.R. Gurney, in the program notes, offers four reasons for the title of this new opus. Then a fifth meaning develops: The play goes on too long. Or maybe it just seems longer than its 140 minutes, due to the sheer number of issues Gurney squeezes into two acts. Noted for putting stingers of social-consciousness into his WASP plays, Gurney here unreels a veritable litany of humankind’s major abuses over the last 400 years, from the Inquisition to slavery to Bosnia. Only his bountiful talent for witty dialogue and satirical insights keeps “Overtime” from sinking into pedantry.
Gurney’s first title explanation carries the play’s theme: “Overtime” is the period after the end of the official game, when people have to play by different rules. In this case, the “game” is Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” famous for heroine Portia’s “quality of mercy” speech and the centuries-old debate on the play’s possible anti-Semitism, focused on Jewish money-lender Shylock.
In “Overtime,” the characters have moved to Portia’s estate in Venice, to celebrate the court victory over Shylock and the upcoming nuptials detailed in Shakespeare’s happy ending. But the partygoers have segued to present day in dress, language and sensibilities, and their chatter reveals all’s not well that ended well.
For instance, Lorenzo wonders if he is drawn to Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, because he’s fascinated by all things Jewish. Jessica, meanwhile, rebels against Lorenzo and Judaism (“Friday nights were hopeless. I couldn’t even shave my legs”).
Portia and Bassanio aren’t all that anxious to consummate their marriage, what with her attending to all the guests and him shooting hoops with Lorenzo. Hoping to move in on Portia is Salerio, whose demeanor is almost as dark as his power suit.
Portia’s fried Nerissa is a passionate Latina (she does a hilarious monologue about her pride in having “the language of Cervantes — and Gloria Estefan”), who’s irritated about being considered Portia’s maid. Nerissa’s suitor, Gratiano , is a black trying to grow his construction business.
In coming out of the closet, Antonio alarms the homophobic Bassanio, who’d wondered about the reason for Lorenzo’s coolness toward Jessica. (Lorenzo’s anxious reply: “I’m not gay. I’m as sure as anyone can be in these ambiguous times.”)
Then Shylock shows up, and his “oy”-punctuated presence triggers new spins on old anti-Semitism. It also leads to one of the script’s highlights, Gratiano explaining his viciousness toward Shylock, as expressed in Shakespeare.
Gurney’s Gratiano dramatically capsulizes the modern rift between blacks and Jews, usually allied in the battle against discrimination.
As delivered effectively by Sterling Macer Jr., the speech is more potent and focused than most in Gurney’s scattershot treatment. Blending then and now, not to mention there and here, is a tricky challenge, so anachronisms and anomalies — like references to Venice and the Red Sox — sometimes clank awkwardly.
And his writing sometime relies on, rather than spoofing, stereotypes like Latin spitfire, Jewish princess and hot-headed Irishman. Yet he has a gift for wordplay, with lots of in-jokes for the theater crowd, and Gurney’s best shots are generally aimed at the shallow insularity of upper-crust WASPs.
The main personification of that is Portia, essayed by Joan McMurtrey with a proper befuddlement and a fine whine. David Aaron Baker plays Lorenzo like the Melancholy Venetian, in contrast to Bo Foxworth’s action-oriented Bassanio. Macer’s cool, rational anger is nicely balanced by Angela Lanza’s fiery, impulsive Nerissa.
Nicholas Martin’s direction reflects the wide range of the script, favoring speed over depth, while the tech work is fine, particularly Michael Krass’ formal and defining costuming, and Kenneth Posner’s into-the-night lighting.
Robert Morgan’s outdoor set mixes classical statues, ivy-covered railings and well-worn grass.