William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
C. L. Rogers & Juanita Wieczoreck
We invite you to experience William Shakespeare’s most controversial, most problematic and, perhaps, most modern play: The Merchant of Venice.
What should contemporary audiences make of a work whose characters and issues have been debated by scholars, critics, directors, and actors for over four hundred years? At one level, The Merchant of Venice is a typical Shakespearean romantic comedy. In the cosmopolitan world of 16th-century Venice, a well-born but penniless young man (Bassanio) borrows a large sum of money, in hopes of winning the hand of a beautiful lady (Portia) who is “richly left.” Bassanio passes a clever test devised by Portia’s deceased father to deter unworthy suitors, but the couple’s happiness is threatened by events that jeopardize the life of Bassanio’s best friend (Antonio), a merchant who has guaranteed Bassanio’s debt. The threat is overcome through an elaborate plot device involving ruse and disguise. Bassanio and Portia live happily ever after.
That, of course, is only part of the picture. The romantic comedy structure of this play serves as the backdrop for a dark story of hostility between the Christian and Jewish communities in Venice — a drama of intolerance, tribalism, betrayal and revenge — personified in the characters of Antonio, a Christian merchant, and Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. But nothing in Merchant is black and white. The further the audience wades into Shakespeare’s complex portrait of Venetian society, as the storylines of Merchant weave together, the less its characters are what they initially seem to be, and in the end we ask ourselves what "happily ever after" really means.
Whatever you think you already know about Merchant, the play will challenge your assumptions and defy your expectations. The Merchant of Venice, in the words of Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, “scrapes against a bedrock of beliefs about the racial, national, sexual and religious difference of others. I can think of no other literary work that does so as unrelentingly and honestly.”
The production, directed by Chris Rogers and Juanita Wieczoreck, features the talents of Avra Sullivan, Brian McGunigle, Max Hagan, Howard Mesick, and Jackie Royer, along with Troy Strootman, Li Wojehowski, Paul Briggs, Jane Terebey, John Terebey, John Feldman, Deanna Van Skiver, Samantha Davis, and Josh Hansen. Costumes are by Barbi Bedell, with technical support by Hope Dorman.
Performances of The Merchant of Venice. are FREE and open to the public