The Merchant of Venice

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Courageous Theater: Anti-Semitism and Racism

I celebrate the brave and confronting live theater here in S.W. Florida.  Two of the very best  productions are “must sees” and on our stages right now.

One of them is at The Gulfshore Playhouses, a theater with a long reputation for  powerful, relevant and demanding plays.  The Producing Artistic Director has mounted a glorious and enthralling  MERCHANT OF VENICE.

She has picked a brilliant cast of nine Equity Actors, and welded them into something as good  as anything on Broadway.   This is Shakespeare as you may never have seen it before.  The script shows the Bard in full range, and the production values celebrate the writing and the superb acting.

The plot is painful.  Shylock, and the pound of flesh are central.   He isn’t pretty, not loveable in any way, but real.  I urge you to go see how Larry Paulsen carves him out.  It is gripping .  Yet the production has clowns and wit and sparkling humor mixed with great suspense, even if you know the ending from 11th grade or some college class.

The director does not spare us the history of Shylocks’s persecution and cruel treatment by Antonio.  “You call me misbeliever, cut-throat dog, and spit upon my Jewish gaberdine.”   Snide as the privileged often are, Antonio answers,  “I am as like to spit on thee again, and spurn thee as well.”   One’s compassion rises as Shylock also has to deal with a daughter who runs off with stolen money and her Christian suitor.   It all makes us really listen and totally hear the famous speech, “Hath not a Jew eyes?  Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?”

Shakespeare and the Director do not give us an easy ride.  No one fell asleep in this production.  The standing ovation was loud and long.  I have to believe that it confronted everyone in that audience at some level because it asks the question, “Where do you stand on anti-Semitism right here, right now?”

Kudos to Ms. Coury and everyone who made that evening truly memorable.  You will not regret going and you will not forget it, either. THE MERCHANT OF VENICE RUNS UNTIL April 15th.  Get your tickets fast.      Or   (866) 811-4111   Support Live Theater.

Sidney B. Simon