Revenge served with pound of flesh
|Lara Knox and Joe Pine star in the Ohio Shakespeare Festival’s “The Merchant of Venice.”|
|Photo courtesy of the Ohio Shakespeare Festival|
“The Merchant of Venice” isn’t a revenge play in the tradition of “Hamlet.” However, revenge plays an important part in the story. Shylock (Robert Hawkes), who is Jewish, is a money lender. He lends money to Antonio (David McNees), a merchant. Antonio is so sure of his ability to repay the loan that he offers a pound of flesh, near the heart, as collateral.
Antonio is not able to repay the loan on time, and Shylock demands the pound of flesh as payment. Cutting the pound of flesh from Antonio’s body will surely kill him.
Bassanio (Joe Pine), Gratiano (Bernard Bygott) and other friends offer to pay the loan. But Shylock refuses. He wants the pound of flesh — he wants revenge.
Shakespeare wrote “The Merchant of Venice” between 1596 and 1598. The historical setting for the play is the Elizabethan era, a period in England of great prejudice against Jewish people. Shakespeare doesn’t have to explain the prejudice — the audience understood and knew how to react to Shylock.
For too long, audiences have thought Shylock was the merchant in the title of the play. But Shylock isn’t a merchant. Antonio is the merchant and the character who faces the threat of death. When Shylock refuses the repayment of the loan and demands the pound of flesh, he raises the stakes and begins the execution (or revenge) of Antonio.
Critics have described the play as a comic drama. Lancelot (Ernie Gonzalez) creates a character who can evoke laughter with the wink of an eye. Gonzalez, again, is excellent, as he was earlier this season in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
McNees, Pine and Bygott set high performance standards for the acting company. The three seem comfortable with Shakespeare’s language and the iambic pentameter rhythms.
Unfortunately, some other performers play their scenes as if speaking in a foreign language. One of the major problems is some of the performers speak too softly. The performers must realize they have competition — frogs in the lagoon, for example. When I saw the play Aug. 2, a train roared down the track, blowing its horn and covering the lines for several minutes.
Director Terry Burgler did an excellent job helping his performers create distinctive characters. Burgler moved his performers around the stage, through the aisles and into the woods to make for a visually interesting production.
Buddy Taylor (lighting design) kept the playing area illuminated so the audience could see the action. Taylor had two major problems — the sun sets during the play and the clouds that threatened rain. However, Taylor adapted to the weather and kept the actors visible.
“The Merchant of Venice” is an excellent production. Unfortunately, this production closes Aug. 19.
Tickets are available by calling 330-673-8761 or visiting www.ohioshakespeare.com.
David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.
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