Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Merchant Of Venice

photo: Nobby Clark

This all-male co-production between Propeller and Watermill Theater (at BAM) re-sets the action of Shakespeare's play to a prison, a choice that does more for the play's second act than for its first. There are as many fresh, inventive ideas as in Propeller's brilliant The Taming Of The Shrew, seen a couple of seasons ago, but here one would need to already be well-acquainted with traditional presentations of the play to be engaged: the production's prison conceit makes a muddle of most of the play's secondary action. The production's interpretation of the main conflict - the bargain between Shylock, the Jewish moneylender who demands interest on his loans, and Antonio, the Christian businessman who does not - is uncomfortable in its choice to keep Shylock from our sympathies: for instance his appeal to the courts and to the anti-Semitic crowd that his people bleed like any other seems here less an emotional appeal for humanity than cold lawyerly argument.

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