American Globe Theatre presented an engaging, ebullient revival of the Shakespearean classic, The Merchant of Venice. A play about tolerance, avarice, and love, The Merchant of Venice was Shakespeare’s first dark comedy.
The basic plot follows Antonio (Richard Fay) and Bassanio (David Dean Hastings) and their need for money. Bassanio wishes to court Portia (Elizabeth Keefe), so he talks Antonio into co-signing a loan with him with Shylock (Rainard Rachele), the frugal Jewish moneylender. Shylock, upset that Antonio always berates him for being a cheap Jew, agrees to give him an interest-free loan only if he’ll promise a pound of flesh as surety. They all agree to the terms.
Bassanio takes the money and indeed does court Portia, who has already been wooed by two suitors unsuccessfully. His friend, Gratiano (Robert Lee Taylor), falls for Portia’s lady-in-waiting, Nerissa (Deepti Gupta). However, the celebration is cut short when it is found out that Shylock has taken Antonio to court over the pound of flesh he is owed. Shylock has been emotionally hurt, as well, because his daughter, Jessica (Sarah Price), has run off with a Christian, Lorenzo (Jon Hoche). Portia and Nerissa dress as men and save the day, and all live happily ever after except for poor Shylock.
As always, director John Basil created a seamless show. The staging made great use of the intimate space -- the actors were always spread out in interesting formations. The pacing was perfect -- never too slow, never too fast. Every line delivery was well thought and planned, as well.
The ensemble was all quite strong. In the small roles of Launcelot Gobbo and a Jailor, Mat Sanders comic delivery was hilarious; he almost stole the show. Robert Lee Taylor’s rendition of Gratiano was real and explosive. Finally, in the leads of Shylock and Portia, Rainard Rachele and Elizabeth Keefe were both endearing and affecting.
Mark Hankla’s colorful set provided an innovatively insane amount of layers and levels -- a balcony, a bridge, platforms. Shima Ushiba’s costumes were appropriate. Scott O’Brien offered a rich, diverse score, which helped transition the scenes, as well as heighten some of the emotional moments.
American Globe Theatre, thus, continues to be one of the best Shakespearean companies in the city. For only $15, their productions are not to be missed!
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Copyright 2006 Seth Bisen-Hersh