“The Merchant of Venice” to open in Oak Brook
Hayley Rice (from left), Melanie Keller and Kevin McKillip appear in "The Merchant of Venice" presented by First Folio Theatre.
First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st Street & Route 83, Oak Brook
8:15 p.m. Wed., Fri., Sat., Sun., July 11-Aug. 19
(630) 986-8067 or firstfolio.org
First Folio Theatre will close its 15th season with what Producer David Rice calls one of William Shakespeare’s best but most controversial plays — “The Merchant of Venice.”
With its themes of hatred, greed and anti-Semitism, this is not light, feel-good theater fare. Yet it is a story worth telling, Rice said.
“It’s a play that shows how hatred destroys everyone on both sides,” Rice said. “Nobody comes out of it looking good.”
Set in 16th-century Venice, Shakespeare’s tale is of a Venetian merchant, Antonio (Michael Joseph Mitchell), who is willing to sacrifice anything for the budding romance of his dear friend Bassanio (Kevin McKillip) with wealthy heiress Portia (Melanie Keller). Antonio strikes a deal with Shylock (Michael Goldberg), a Jewish moneylender and also his bitter rival, to provide money for his friend’s pursuit of Portia, offering a pound of his own flesh as collateral.
When Shylock demands the gruesome payment, it falls to Portia, disguised as a male lawyer, to save Antonio from the consequences of his anti-Semitism.
The play features Shylock’s famous quote, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?” — questions that still are being asked 400 years later.
This dark tale challenges prejudices and fears about religion, gender, ethnicity, and sexuality that are as relevant today as they were when the story was written.
The 2-hour, 15-minute production will take place in front of a giant mural of the Italian city where the story takes place.
“The scenic design is absolutely marvelous,” Rice said.
And of course, the natural backdrop provided by the Mayslake Forest Preserve is beautiful, as well. Guests are encouraged to bring blankets and lawn chairs, snacks and beverages to the performance. Chairs are available for rent for $2, and concessions as well as pre-ordered box suppers from La Cuisine will be sold. Box suppers must be ordered 48 hours in advance of the show.
Each Thursday evening, the cast will further explore the story through a staged reading of “Shylock and His Daughter,” based on a 1947 novel by Maurice Schwartz. Originally written for the Yiddish theater and translated into English, this play tells Shakespeare’s story from the Jewish moneylender’s perspective.
The production will use the same actors as the main stage production, with the actors playing the same roles. Performances will be held at 8:15 p.m. on Thursdays, July 26, August 2, 9, and 16. Tickets are $10.