Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review: An Old Story Turned New

By Kaila M. Stokes

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice presented by Hamlet Isn’t Dead is an entertaining musical portrayal of this overdone story. Hamlet Isn’t Dead is committed to producing/performing all of Shakespeare’s works in order. This is a truly unique feat and after a couple of years of existence they are finally getting into the “good stuff” as they put it. Walking into this gallery style space, musicians are playing and partying. It truly feels welcoming from the beginning. Music is used throughout the piece which keeps this old story new and exciting.
Most know Merchant of Venice either having seen it performed or at least having read it in school. It is a hard piece in many ways; the epilogues can be very long, the story has too many story lines and not enough follow through, and the ending doesn’t pay off in some ways. This version of Merchant of Venice, directed by David Andrews Laws, was different. Although the story has heavy themes, the burdens of those themes are never rested on the audience. Instead the audience is merely there to be entertained. If one were to imagine what the audience in Shakespeare’s day experienced, it was probably a lot like this, minus the plague. The audience was part of the show, the actor’s broke the fourth wall to include and ask their opinions even. It felt like the audience helped decide what was going to happen next in the plot! For this the director, David Andrew Laws, should truly be commended. This production is not bogged down with set, lights, or props. It is purely about the relationship of the characters to one another and to the audience. It is basic and beautiful. If done correctly Shakespeare’s plays do not need elaborate sets or costumes. They can be done right by owning the language and the stories of these distant people.
The actors themselves were more than just actors as mentioned, they were musicians! Almost every person played an instrument, some multiple, truly impressive. The knock out performer of the evening award definitely goes to Shylock, played by Leo Goodman. His character in the story makes the biggest shift of course and Leo Goodman rode that wave and made the audience hang on every word. His performance drove others to rise to the challenge which heightened those key moments. Portia and Nerissa, played by Mary McNulty and Samantha Maurice, were so much fun and brought a breath of fresh air to the plot. They truly understood their roles in bringing the laughter. Some actors were more comfortable with the language than others, but with what some lacked others made up for. Each member of the company brought something different to their character. They had their own walk, or talk, or look. It helped differentiate not only the characters, but the plot at times since it can get a bit twisty.
Merchant of Venice tends to be long and drawn out, but the Hamlet Isn’t Dead producers edited the story down to make the most sense possible! If you are not a huge Shakespeare goer, this is a great company to get your feet wet with. It was a truly enjoyable experience, one that should repeat itself. Merchant of Venice is a laugh out loud musical adventure of an old play done with a fresh pair of millennial eyes.