Archive for June, 2011

On the Hill, a very enjoyable ‘Merchant’

From The Buffalo News
By Colin Dabkowski
Published June 19, 2011


Morgan Walker/ Buffalo News

Seldom have humor and menace combined in such a potent brew as Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice,” a tale of improbable comedy in the face of fierce prejudice that opened the 36th season of Shakespeare in Delaware Park in grand fashion on Thursday night.

And this production, fraught with tension and loaded with deeply felt performances, achieved a rare immediacy that kept audience members on the hill utterly rapt across the play’s very fast three hours. This is no small task, as anyone who has slogged through lesser productions of outdoor Shakespeare can readily attest.

Director Brian Cavanagh has taken the straightforward approach. There’s no daring directorial concept at work here, just a sense that the cast was given enough time and space to grow comfortable in their characters’ often unsavory skins and to pay deep attention to the emotional thrust behind the play’s utterly spellbinding language.

The plot, for the uninitiated, goes like this:

The affable but poor Bassanio (Adriano Gatto) has an incurable thing for Portia (Susan Drozd), a smoking-hot young heiress hotly pursued by dukes and princes with tons of money but absolutely no game. Portia loves Bassanio, but she shall hath no scrubs, so Bassanio asks his main man Antonio, a Venetian merchant, to spot him some cash.

Antonio, in turn, makes the truly boneheaded move of borrowing the money from a spiteful Jewish moneylender by the name of Shylock (Saul Elkin), who has an ancient ax to grind against Antonio specifically and Christianity in general. Shylock lends the money with the grim caveat that if Antonio does not fully repay the debt within three months, he is entitled to a pound of of the merchant’s flesh. Think of Shylock as the godfather of predatory lending.

Bassanio, after going through an absurd ritual involving three locked boxes to win Portia’s hand—a sort of 14th-century mixture of “The Bachelorette” and “The Price is Right” — gets what he was after. But Antonio isn’t so lucky. After his ships are reported lost at sea, he forfeits his end of the bloody bargain, and things really start to heat up.

Elkin’s performance as Shylock is a study in withering condescension and untempered disgust, a chilling embodiment of the prejudices at the center of this play, the ways in which they draw on deep historical roots and seem doomed to propagate themselves endlessly.

Peter Palmisano, an actor who rarely disappoints in Shakespearean roles, brings Antonio, in all his affected honor and his own detestable prejudices, to brilliant life. As Bassanio, Gatto is the picture of affability and Drozd, as Portia, gives her character a confident and deeply appealing interpretation. David Autovino has some great comic moments, while the interplay between Chris Labanca as the clownish Launcelot and David Lundy as his father is more than a bit cute. A couple of glaring performances lag far behind the lot, but on the whole this cast deserves accolades for rendering their lines so deftly and with so much genuine feeling.

As usual, sound designer Tom Makar plays an indispensable role in establishing the play’s alternately lighthearted and deeply menacing tenor with a sound design that inserts itself into the play without ever making itself too apparent. He’s helped by the able lighting designer Chris Cavanagh, set designer Ron Schwartz and costumer designer Ken Shaw.

The result of all this is a “Merchant of Venice” that in some ways reduces the distance between 14th century Italy and 21st century Buffalo to a hair’s breadth. It makes it not just easy but utterly necessary for us consider just how far our prejudices have traveled since then and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the corrupting forces of dehumanization, revenge and redemption that sit at the play’s heart.

 

Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Buffalo, NY – Free Shakespeare Festival

Shakespeare in Delaware Park

Location

Lincoln Parkway

Buffalo, NY 14222-1211

United States
See map: Google Maps

Shakespeare in Delaware Park is pleased to announce our 36th Anniversary Season. Join us on the hill in 2011 for The Merchant of Venice, starring Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s artistic director and founder, Saul Elkin, running June 16th through July 10th, directed by Brian Cavanagh. Then director Eileen Dugan will helm our production of As You Like It which will take the stage July 21st through August 14th.

Shakespeare in Delaware Park has been a Buffalo summer tradition since 1976. It is one of the country’s most successful outdoor Shakespeare festivals in terms of audience, attracting an average of 40 to 50 thousand patrons each summer. New York City is nearby but this FREE festival is right in Western New Yorkers beautiful back yard.

Our spectacular performances take place in a historic park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, father of landscape architecture, and the nation’s foremost park maker. Behind the Park’s rose garden stands our grand Tudor-Style stage on a sweeping hill of green. In this beautiful setting under the stars where Shakespeare’s stories live on to explore the truths of the human heart; tragedy, jealousy, foolishness, passion, laughter, and love.


As You Like It
July 21 – August 14

Duke Frederick has usurped the title and throne of his older brother, Duke Senior. Duke Senior has escaped to the Forest of Arden with his band of loyal followers, leaving his daughter, Rosalind, behind at court. Into this situation, enter Orlando and Oliver de Boys, two brothers divided because of Orlando’s long standing mistreatment by his brother. When Orlando enters a wrestling match sponsored by Duke Frederick, Oliver tells Orlando’s opponent, Charles (a champion wrestler) that he wouldn’t care if Charles were to break Orlando’s neck.

To the surprise of all, Orland wins the match, and, in so doing, attracts the romantic attention of Rosalind and the anger of Oliver. Orlando and his servant, Adam, escape to the Forest of Arden. Duke Frederick decides to banish Rosalind to Arden as he did with her father. Celia, Frederick’s daughter and Rosalind’s best friend, decides to go with her. Rosalind disguises herself as a boy named Ganymede and Celia assumes the role of “his” sister, Aliena. They are joined in their flight by the clown, Touchstone.

Orlando joins Duke Senior’s men. Pining for his lost Rosalind, he goes about the forest carving her name in the trees and leaving love poems scattered about and pinned to trees.

Still disguised as Ganymede, Rosalind seeks out Orlando. She promises to cure his heartache by letting him pour out his feelings to Ganymede as if “he” were Rosalind. Rosalind also attempts a match between two shepherds, Silvius and Phebe, that goes wrong when Phebe falls instead for Rosalind’s Ganymede. Meanwhile, Touchston courts a country girl, Audrey, adding to the multiple romance plots.

The resolution begins when Oliver, who has come to the forest, is saved from a lion by Orlando and the brothers are reconciled. Oliver meets Celia and falls in love with her, and Duke Senior promises to marry them the next day (no time lost). Rosalind makes Phebe promise to marry Silvius if she can’t have Ganymede and then tells Orlando that Rosalind will marry him that day as well.

When all have gathered for the wedding, Rosalind removes her Ganymede disguise. Orlando and she are happily reunited, Phebe agrees to marry Silvius, and Touchstone will marry Audrey. At this point, Jaques, a discontented melancholy Lord, brings the news that Duke Frederick has repented his ways and opted for a monastic life. Duke Senior is restored to his rightful position and all live happily ever after.

Cast:

Director: Eileen Dugan
Duke Senior- Jerrold Brown
Rosalind-Morgan Chard
Duke Frederick- Steve Vaughn
Celia- Anne Roalidi
Jacques -Tim Newell
Amiens – Anthony Alcocer
Le Beau – RJ Voltz
Charles – Will Vaughn
Oliver – Chris Kelly
Adam – Larry Roswell
Touchstone – Norman Sham
Phebe – Arin Lee Dandes
Corin – Gerry Maher
Audrey – Andrea Andolina
William – James Robert Steiner
Orlando – Patrick Cameron
Jacques (the brother)- Jose Riveria
Silvus – Jake Bradley
Lords -Billy Horn, Nicholas Lama


The Merchant of Venice
June 16 – July 10

Antonio, a Venetian Merchant, is approached for a loan by his friend Bassanio who is desperately in need of money to court Portia, a wealthy heiress. Antonio agrees, but is unable to make the loan because his money is invested in a number of trade ships that are still at sea. Antonio and Bassanio approach Shylock, a Jewish money lender, for a loan. Shylock nurses a longstanding grudge against Antonio who has made a habit of berating Shylock and other Jews in public. Shylock: “You call me dog, and spit upon my Jewish gabardine.” Although Antonio refuses to apologize for his behavior, Shylock acts agreeably and offers to lend Antonio 3000 Ducats without interest. Shylock adds, however, that, should the loan go unpaid, he is entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Shylock refers to this as “a merry bond,” to which Antonio agrees in spite of Bassanio’s warnings.

In Shylock’s own household, his servant Launcelot decides to leave Shylock’s service to work for Bassanio, and Shylock’s daughter Jessica schemes to elope with Antonio’s young Christian friend Lorenzo. That night, the streets of Venice are filled with revelers, and Jessica escapes with Lorenzo dressed as his page, taking with her a sum of Shylock’s wealth and a ring Shylock had given his late and much beloved wife.

There follows a scene in Belmont at Portia’s home where Bassanio and two other suitors for Portia’s hand must select from three boxes of gold, silver and lead. The suitor who chooses correctly will win Portia. Bassanio, needless to say, selects the lead box and wins the girl. Portia gives Bassanio a ring as token of her love and makes him swear that, under no circumstance, will he ever part with it. Gratiano, Bassanio’s friend, proposes to Portia’s lady in waiting, Nerissa, who also gives him a ring, and a double wedding is planned. The celebration is cut short by the news that Antonio’s ships have been lost at sea, and that he has forfeited his bond (contract) to Shylock.

A trial is called to decide the matter. This is perhaps the most famous scene in the play. The Duke of Venice, who presides over the trial, announces that he has sent for a legal expert who turns out to be Portia disguised as a young man of the law accompanied by Nerissa, also disguised as her clerk. Portia asks Shylock to show mercy (the famous “Quality of mercy” speech), but Shylock, angered by the loss of his daughter and generations of anti Semitic abuse, insists that the “pound of flesh” is legally his.

Shylock is about to collect his “bond”, when Portia reminds him that he must do so without causing Antonio to bleed, as the contract does not entitle him to any blood.

Trapped by the logic, Shylock agrees to take the money that Bassanio has offered him to settle the contract, but Portia reminds the court that Shylock is guilty of threatening the life of a Venetian citizen and that this is a capital offence. The Duke spares Shylock’s life, but fines him the sum of all his property– half to the state and half to Antonio. Moreover, he must convert to Christianity. Shylock leaves the court a defeated man.

Bassanio and Gratiano do not see through Portia and Nerissa’s disguses and give them the rings they promised they would never part with as payment for the trial. Back in Belmont, Portia and Nerissa reveal the ‘trick,” the lovers are reunited, and word is received that Antonio’s ships have in fact made it back safely. The group celebrates their good fortune.

In many contemporary productions, Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, is left alone on stage clearly regretting what has befallen her father.

Cast:

Director: Brian Cavanagh
Antonio- Peter Palmisano
Shylock- Saul Elkin

Portia- Susan Drozd
Bassanio- Adriano Gatto
Nerissa- Kay Kerimian
Gratiano- David Autivino
Lorenzo- John Kaczorwoski
Salerio- Matt Witten
Solanio- Joe Cassidy
Jessica- Leah Russo
Launcelot- Chris Labanca
Old Gobbo- David Lundy
Prince of Arragon- Larry Smith
Tubal- Brendan Cuningham
Duke of Venice- Jay Desiderio
Prince of Morocco- Monish Bhattacharyya

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