First Folio presents “The Merchant of Venice’ in Oak Brook
Kevin McKillip (from left), Michael Joseph Mitchell and Michael Goldberg in First Folio Theatre’s "The Merchant of Venice." | Photo by David Rice
‘The Merchant of Venice’
First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook
8:15 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, through Aug. 19
Featuring lawn seating; attendees are invited to bring their own chairs or blankets, or rent one for $2 each at the concession stand. Concessions as well as pre-ordered box suppers from La Cuisine (prepaid 48 hours in advance) are also available. Gates open at 6:45 p.m.
Tickets: $26-$36, with discounts for students and seniors
First Folio will also present a fully staged reading of “Shylock and His Daughter,” by Maurice Schwartz, at 8:15 p.m. July 26, Aug. 2, 9 and 16. Originally written for the Yiddish theater and translated into English, the play tells the same story as “The Merchant of Venice,” but from Shylock’s perspective. Tickets are $10
Call (630) 986-8067 or visit www.firstfolio.org
Updated: July 17, 2012 9:18PM
In one of Shakespeare’s most devastating tragedies, Christians and Jews (and Moroccans and the French) alike come across in a less than favorable light (to put it mildly) within the text of “The Merchant of Venice.”
Mercy, for all the eloquence of Portia’s famous speech on the topic, is nowhere to be found in this play — not from Shylock the moneylender as he famously demands his pound of flesh, not from his Christian debtors whose hatred and lust for vengeance are all equally hateful.
And what kind of daughter, adored by her father, betrays him without warning or even the slightest pangs of conscience, stealing his money and leaving him heartbroken?
In all, “Merchant” is a harsh, dark and disturbing tale. It may end with the promise of a triple marriage, but those nuptials can’t begin to soften the heinous human behavior that has preceded them.
In First Folio Theatre’s staging of the difficult play, some of the intensity and the brutality of the troubling piece bubbles to the surface. Director Alison Vesely elicits some fine performances from several of her principals. But the supporting cast is marred by overplayed comic shtick and a tendency to recite the text rather than imbue it with the intense emotion it so often demands.
Matters begin somewhat shakily, as a very un-sad seeming Antonio (Michael Joseph Mitchell) ruminates on his supposed melancholy. The titular merchant seems decidedly chipper for someone in the funk he describes. Still, that’s a relatively minor quibble and matters improve with the arrival of Bassanio (Kevin McKillip), whose proclamation of love for the fair Portia (Melanie Keller) resounds with an aching, authentic poignancy.
It’s for Bassanio that Antonio goes into debt, borrowing 3,000 ducats from Shylock (Michael Goldberg) in order to furnish the would-be suitor with the means to woo his love. Antonio stresses that the debt is a trifle — his ships are literally coming in, laden with wealth, and once they land he’ll be able to pay off the despised Jew with ease. When Shylock demands a pound of flesh in the event of a forfeiture, Antonio shrugs and signs on the dotted line.
Of course those ships don’t come in as expected, and the highest moment of tension in “Merchant” arrives in the courtroom scene wherein the Duke of Venice (the ever-reliable Rene Ruelas) rules that Antonio must submit to Shylock’s knife.
He doesn’t, of course, thanks to some canny legal maneuvering by Portia (disguised as a learned doctor). But that last-minute save hardly makes for a happy ending.
The Christians in “Merchant of Venice” aren’t satisfied with merely sending Shylock off minus the ducats he’s owed. They poison justice by burying it beneath viciousness, cruelty and downright inhumanity, not satisfied until they have forced Shylock to renounce his faith in one of the most cringe-inducing scenes Shakespeare (or any dramatist) ever wrote.
While Goldberg brings a gravity and a simmering anger to Shylock, he doesn’t go quite far enough. You can see the justified rage flickering in his eyes and his delivery; hopefully it will kindle further as the run continues. Keller gives Portia a steely inner strength and her love scenes with McKillip have an undeniable chemistry.
Where this “Merchant” falters is in the over-broad attempts at comedy befalling some of the smaller roles and the overall over-acting of many of the younger actors in the ensemble. Launcelot (Nate Santana) needs to rein it in as does the cartoonishly foppish, Pepe LaPew-accented Prince of Aragon (Lane Flores.)
Vesely has added an intriguing, silent final scene to the production, giving the audience one last glimpse of Shylock’s daughter (Cassidy Shea Stirtz) that opens up a vast world of complications to come for the newlywed. It’s a wonderfully provocative touch, and one that will leave you rather wishing Shakespeare had written a sequel.