If you prick a Jew, will he not bleed? Yes, and if you prick a classic script, it will bleed too. Director Gerritt Turner didn't just prick Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice -- he ran it through with a rapier! Turner's play bears almost no resemblance to Shakespeare's text. The set was like an MC Escher painting brought to life, one of the bit players was a Tiny Tim impersonator, the character Salanio was a ventriloquist's dummy (with Salerio as the ventriloquist), the cast preened in 1920s costumes, and the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" played in the background.
That said, it must also be pointed out that Turner wasn't a bad director, he just wasn't the right director for this play. The sets and costumes were beautiful, Turner got good performances out of a very young cast, and he was fully devoted to his vision of the play ... even though that vision and this play had nothing to do with one another.
The characters became caricatures and were played to the hilt by a cast that, no doubt, could have given three-dimensional performances if directed to do so. Shylock (Will Pinchin) was a glowering, sniveling, moustache-twisting villain right out of a Dudley Doright cartoon (he didn't actually have a moustache, but surely would have twisted it if he did). Incidentally, leading men Antonio (Zack Calhoon) and Lorenzo (Wes Whitehead) played their roles exceptionally despite the directing.
Sarah Pearline's set was a marvel. Floor-to-ceiling columns ringed the stage, and Lucite panels in the floor let eerie blue lights shine up from below (representing the canals). An Escher-esque pattern adorned the floor, which sloped subtly upward, out from the center of the stage, and let characters appear to change height in the middle of scenes.
Elna Baker's costumes were appropriate to the 1920s (though Gerritt Turner alone can answer why). With many members of the large cast making several costume changes, the sheer volume was a challenge to any costume designer (and to seamstress Lisa Arcularius).
Owen O'Malley's sound was at times baffling. The Who and The Beatles (?) played in 1920s Venice, and even 70s-style game-show music crept in. An extra annoying touch was the "Cha-Ching" cash register sound effect that played any time money changed hands in the play (sometimes a second or two after the money changed hands).
Even though the set was spectacular and the costumes were beautiful, the show's unique visual style wasn't enough to hold the audience's attention for its hefty running time. Three hours of the cast's posing and mugging for the audience was more than enough.
Although Dreamscape deserves credit for assembling these wonderful pieces, it's as though they've assembled pieces from different puzzles and the picture they form isn't pretty.
(Also features Beau Allulli, Sheila Carraco, Steven DeWater, Anastasia Hanan, Ricardo Perez-Gonzalez, Ana Reiselman, and Joe Stipek.)
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Copyright 2003 Charles Battersby