The Merchant of Venice

by Richard Wolak on June 26, 2011

I attended this engaging performance of The Merchant of Venice directed by Rachel Ditor on opening night. Captivating the audience, actors Ryan Beil (Gratanio), Luc Roderique (Prince of Morocco), Richard Newman (Shylock) and John Murphy (Prince of Aragon) delivered brilliant performances.

This timeless, mesmerizing tale pits youth against age, idealism against compromise, as it travels the vast landscape between extremes. Portia and Bassanio find true love for the first time while the moneylender Shylock and the merchant Antonio are locked in deadly battle, driven by prejudice and the desire for justice. Loyalties and values are famously put to the test when a ‘pound of flesh’ becomes the price of a failed contract, and young lovers conspire to win lasting happiness.

Bassanio (Charlie Gallant) has the opportunity to woo a wealthy heiress, Portia (Lindsey Angell). His older friend, a merchant named Antonio (Duncan Fraser), agrees to give him money to support his suit, however, Antonio’s funds are all invested in ventures at sea and not currently available. To help Bassanio, Antonio borrows money from Shylock (Richard Newman), signing a bond to repay the money within three months or he will owe Shylock a pound of his “fair flesh”.  At her home in Belmont, Portia entertains a variety of suitors and she is constrained to marry the suitor who succeeds in a task set by her deceased father. Two of Portia’s suitors, the Prince of Morocco (Luc Roderique) and the Prince of Aragon (John Murphy), make wrong choices before Bassanio arrives and chooses the correct casket. Portia, who expresses a hope that Bassanio would choose correctly, gives her love and wealth to her newly betrothed husband. Bassanio’s friend, Gratiano (Ryan Beil), and Portia’s attendant, Nerissa (Amber Lewis) have also fallen in love and decided to marry. Another friend of Bassanio, Lorenzo (Sebastian Kroon), arrives with his new wife, Jessica (Luisa Jojic), who happens to be Shylock’s daughter, and another friend, Salanio (David Marr), who brings news from Antonio: his ships have all been lost, and since he cannot repay Shylock, he will have to forfeit a pound of his flesh and, in doing so, die. They depart immediately for Venice, with Portia’s blessing and her offer to pay the bond. Portia and Nerissa leave, dressed as a young lawyer and his clerk, to attend the trial and defend Antonio as he faces Shylock’s demand. In the courtroom, Shylock is inflexible. He argues that according to the law, Antonio must forfeit his pound of flesh, and he insists on the penalty. Portia, disguised as a lawyer, turns the table on Shylock; Antonio is saved and Shylock’s life is now in question. The Duke of Venice (John Murphy) spares Shylock’s life but requires him to convert to Christianity. Adding to this intriguing look at the nature of bonds are Lois Anderson as Stephana, Kayvon Khoshkam as Launcelot Gobbo, Shawn Macdonald as Salarino and Todd Thomson as Tubal.

Director Rachel Ditor has set this production in the 1870s, around the time of the unification of Italy with Kevin McAllister’s thrust stage taking us between Venice’s courtroom and the island of Belmont. Mara Gottler’s costumes bring us into both these locations, with pastel and cream grand dresses defining the role of women in Belmont and the monied look of success for the mercantile world of Venice. Patrick Pennefather’s dramatic sound design elegantly bridges these worlds and Gerald King’s lighting emphasizes the dark and light natures of the two worlds.

The play runs in the Mainstage Theatre tent Tuesdays to Sundays June 15 to September 23 under the tents in Vanier Park.  Tickets: 604-739-0559 or www.bardonthebeach.org.

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