A Spin on Shakespeare

“It’s quirky. It’s controversial. It’s got a lot of cross-dressing. So come hither, come hither!” exclaimed Yisa Fermin ’08. William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” is this winter’s Theatre 520 production. Directed by Instructor in Theater Kevin Heelan, the play debuted in Tang Theatre last night. But if you missed it then, don’t worry! There are still two more showings this Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. “The Merchant of Venice” is a tale of love and prejudice, social class and craftiness. There are two main settings, the noble lady Portia’s home in Belmont and various locations around Venice. The action of the play alternates between these two, with a narrator explaining each shift in scene. The story begins in Venice, where a man named Bassanio asks his wealthy merchant friend, Antonio, to loan him enough money to marry the beautiful Portia. Unfortunately, Antonio cannot spare the money and advises his friend to take a loan in his name from Shylock, a rich Jew with a grudge on Antonio. Shylock agrees, but only under the condition that he may cut off one pound of Antonio’s flesh if the money is not returned. Meanwhile at Belmont, Portia is playing host to her suitors. Her father’s will dictates that she marry whichever man, given the options of three caskets, chooses the one that contains her portrait. To Portia’s relief, the first two suitors to attempt this challenge are unsuccessful. But her lover, Bassanio, chooses correctly and takes Portia as his bride. Back in Venice, Shylock’s daughter has run off with a Christian. This makes Shylock even more set on revenge against the Christian Antonio, who has failed to pay back the loan. Portia knows that something has to be done to halt the impending disaster, so she and her maid attend Antonio’s trial dressed as lawyer and clerk. Who will live? Who will die? Who will have any face left by the end of the trial? It’s all up to Portia. “Well, that’s an interesting play to do,” remarked an admissions officer upon observing “The Merchant of Venice” in James Flynn’s ’07 list of recent performances. The play is considered by many to be very anti-Semitic and is thus rarely performed by high school students. So why are they? “I reread it, and I really liked it,” explained director Kevin Heelan. “It’s a hard performance to do because you have to hear the argument behind the play. But I hope people come and judge the message for themselves.” The lighting and use of space in “The Merchant of Venice” are superb. The actors utilize every inch of the stage as well as one of the upper balconies and the aisles of the theatre. With spotlights of contrasting brightness and darkness, the lighting really helps convey the mood of each scene. Decorations range from a long whip to a Granny Smith apple. “There are a lot of cool props, but I especially love the desk. It’s so [appropriate to the era],” gushed slide and traveler operator Jane Thomas ’10. “You have to style the clothes,” Billy Murray told the actors as they walked out in their costumes at the beginning of the dress rehearsal. He explained the importance of using their costumes to further develop their characters. The intensity of everyone involved in “The Merchant of Venice” was extraordinary. The actors, eights boys and four girls, rarely missed a cue or slipped out of character. It was also obvious how close everyone had grown after such a long time working together. While waiting for Heelan’s pep talk before rehearsal, all the actors were joking and laughing. This togetherness really transferred to the stage. Everyone seemed to be attuned to each other. For instance, when Ellie Shepley’s headdress fell off during one run-through, Lilli Stein ’07 quickly noticed her distress and managed to casually walk over and pick it up. Heelan was also very friendly with the actors and complimented them on their appearances as they debuted their new costumes. With thought-provoking themes, an array of males in dresses, and a timeless quirkiness, this is a show you will never forget.