A sterling production of Shakespeare’s ultimate story about revenge
Those films have nothing on Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” the ultimate show about vengeance.
No, it doesn’t have machine guns or grenades or things getting blown up.
What it does have is a dagger in the hands of a man who’s socially scorned, spit upon and demeaned, who suddenly gets the upper hand.
Now he has an opportunity to get his revenge.
Suddenly, everyone who’s never shown him any mercy in his life is screaming for him to show the very mercy they’ve refused him.
Yet when circumstances shift, they again show him no mercy, taking away everything that means anything to him, including his means of livelihood, his identity, his self-esteem, even his religion.
It reminded me of the Gospel verses that question what good is it if we just show love and forgiveness to those that we know and love.
With Kristen Coury directing and input from Shakespeare scholar Gail Kern Paster, Gulfshore Playhouse puts on a sterling production of this classic that’s jaw-droppingly stunning in presentation and staging and costume.
“The Merchant of Venice,” is, of course, more than a play about revenge. It’s an examination of love, sacrifice, consequences and mercy, both given and denied.
Bassanio (Sam Ashdown) asks his friend Antonio (Timothy Carter) for yet another loan, because he wants to woo Portia, a rich heiress he has an eye on. He feels he needs to have money in order to stand out from all the other suitors. Antonio agrees, but as his finances are tied up, he borrows money from Shylock (Larry Paulsen), a man he has literally spit on. He foolishly agrees to give a literal pound of his flesh from wherever Shylock wants if he does not repay him within the agreed upon three-month period.
Things suddenly fall apart when Antonio realizes he can’t pay back Shylock by the deadline. And Shylock is demanding his pound of flesh; he wants to cut out Antonio’s heart as payment.
Don’t worry about following the story; you’re pulled into this play as if by an undercurrent, and will understand the plot — and the Elizabethan language — clearly.
It contains many humorous moments, despite the fates that befall some its characters.
Jeffrey Binder is particularly funny as a doofus servant with barely two brain cells to keep each other company, and also as the Prince of Arragon, a dirty old man who wants to marry the young Portia. He’s so decrepit and doddering that he falls asleep on his feet; Mr. Binder’s portrayal provoked peals of laughter from the audience.
And William Oliver Watkins as the Prince of Morocco, another suitor, also provides laughs as he struts and swaggers and fills the room with his big voice and even bigger ego.
Sofia Jean Gomez positively glows onstage as the winsome Portia, with a quick wit and a charismatic personality. She reminded me, at times, of a younger Meryl Streep, with her instinctual choices in how she plays her character. We, as an audience, take to her from her very first moment on stage, laughing with her lady-in-waiting and confidante, Nerissa (Ally Carey).
Angela Janas as Jessica and Zachary Martens as Lorenzo round out the cast in a subplot. The two are yet another couple who fall in love and find happiness together.
Charles Murdock Lucas provides a set of stone and marble that works for various locales in Venice, while Lauren Gaston’s costumes are lavishly lush in color and texture.
Mr. Paulsen is masterful in his role as Shylock, making us feel his every loss. His “If you prick us, do we not bleed” speech comes from the heart, reminding us that we are all the same under the skin. He argues that whatever “villainy” he has, he’s been taught by the Christians. And these un-Christ-like Christians have unfortunately taught him well.
Though Ms. Coury hasn’t added any dialogue at the end of the play, she does have one brief unspoken scene that is jarring, making me rethink the entire play and my feelings about the other characters. It’s also somewhat ambiguous and probably leads to many discussions after the show about what exactly she is trying to say.
Many days after seeing this outstanding production of “The Merchant of Venice,” I was still thinking about it, turning it over and over in my mind.
This is Shakespeare by professionals, who make it very entertaining and accessible … and definitely thought-provoking. ¦
‘The Merchant of Venice’
>> When: Through April 15
>> Where: Gulfshore Playhouse at The Norris Center, Naples
>> Cost: Tickets start at $45
>> Info: (866) 811-4111 or www.gulfshoreplayhouse.org