The Merchant of Venice is one of those Shakespeare "comedies" that has the polarizing blend of comedy and drama. In Shakespeare Forum’s production of The Merchant of Venice, those polar ends are explored to the extreme in the classic play about love, faith, honor, and revenge.
For those needing a plot summary, The Merchant of Venice follows the intertwining stories of Bassanio, a suitor of the rich heiress Portia, who approaches his friend, the titular Antonio, to subsidize his pursuit. Bassanio and Antonio approach Shylock to be a lender, who in turn strikes a deal that if he cannot return the fee by the specified date, he may take a pound of Antonio’s flesh. Of course, like any Shakespeare play, there are an assortment of colorful characters to meet along the way. Like the divide of styles, the company was divided as well. The cast was lead by the wonderful performances of Bill Coyne, Dominic Comperatore, and Sarah Hankins. Bill Coyne effortlessly embodies Bassanio, bringing the right amount of charm and heart. Comperatore was a natural with the text. Both Coyne and Compertore found the way to bring contemporary to the classic text. Sarah Hankins as Nerissa was a natural when it came to the comedic timing, knowing exactly when to pander for laughs. Hanna Rose Goalstone and Imani Jade Powers took the understated route as Portia and Jessica, handing over their scenes to Sarah Hankins’ colorful Nerissa and Zach Libresco’s goofy Lorenzo. Though Goalstone’s performance did take off greatly in the second half, delivering Portia’s infamous monologue with passion. Joseph J. Menino as Shylock offered quite a unique performance. As possibly the most iconic character of the play, Menino put his stamp on the role, yet he seemed to play up the “woe is me” card, allowing the audience to potentially dislike his revenge and honor plot, seeing him as a villain.
As far as conceptualizing the play, it appeared to be a blend of modern with a classic throwback including an elegant set design by Marie Yokoyama. With the explanation from the Directors’ Note about the story being about class, facades, and preconceptions, Brittany Merola’s costume design was a bit confusing. There appeared to be very little difference in the way of class types. Perhaps the façade card was played up a little more than the class card.
Overall, Shakespeare Forum’s The Merchant of Venice was mediocre and underwhelming. Despite some wonderful performances, there was just something lacking.