Liz on Theatre

Merchant of Venice Makes Memorable Opener at Shakespeare Theatre

MADISON, NJ – “The Merchant of Venice” has plenty to say about prejudice, suspision, money and cruelty.

Yet it has redeeming features as well, with Portia’s “quality of mercy” speech and Shylock’s insistence that Jews are individuals with feelings, thoughts and emotions as much as any other man or woman.  

Director Robert Cuccioli has gathered a distinguished cast to explore the contradictions and timeless appeal of this Shakespeare play. Brent Harris is Antonio, the Merchant of Venice, who has offered to help his friend Bassanio resolve a debt, but doesn’t have the funds on hand. He asks Bassanio to find a loan guarantor, who happens to be Shylock. During the play, Harris runs the gamut of an assured merchant who thinks he will not need to face Shylock’s exacting demands to a terrified victim.  

Sign Up for E-News

Antonio is now in debt to the money lender Shylock (Andrew Weems) who has demanded a pound of flesh if Antonio cannot pay the bond. Later we learn that Antonio’s ships are presumably lost at sea.  By now, Shylock has become adamant that he wants his “pound of flesh” from Antonio, not financial reimbursement. A court hearing ensues.

Weems in his speech on “hath not a Jew eyes” is somber and memorable. Coming to the court is Portia, played with assertiveness by Melissa Miller, who is disguised as a learned arbitrator or Doctor of Law.  Her insistence on the letter of the law changes the ground rules of the court. She is accompanied by Nerissa, Rachel Towne, her hand maid disguised as a law clerk during the courtroom scene.  As payment, Portia demands the ring she has given to Bassanio, who had promised he would never remove it.  This deception leads to more complications.  

There are many pairings and pretences. Most amusing is Portia’s test among three suitors, presented with   caskets of gold, silver and lead. “All that glitters is not gold” is one of those pearls found among Shakespeare’s words. Jeffrey M. Bender is hilarious as Prince of Arragon, who thinks he has all the answers in his pompous, pretentious quest for Portia’s hand. Ademide Akintilo is Prince of Morocco, who also chooses one of the more valuable caskets and soon learns that he has lost his chance for winning Portia.   She is really in love with Bassanio (John Keabler) and Antonio’s longtime friend.

In the meantime, Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Amaia Arana) has fallen in love with Leonardo (Byron Clohessy) and runs off with him after stealing from her father. That romance appears not to be as happily resolved as those involving Portia and Nerissa. Still, it makes for an intriguing twist and shows us another dimension of Shylock.

Director Cuccioli has updated the setting to 1910, which brings the play closer to our own time without losing any of its impact. Costumes by Candida Nichols are consistent with the period and enhance the fast moving action. Portia in her purple gown is stunning against a backdrop of gold and lavender. Lighting by Michael Giannitti illuminates various scenes and the scenic design of Brian Ruggaber is a fascinating turntable with archways, staircases, filigreed balconies and other touches to create the aura of Venice.

Kari Berntson’s sound design features lush violin music and subtle effects as the play’s emotions and messages shift from place to place.

“The Merchant of Venice” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University, through June 4. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.

Liz Keill reviews professional theatre in the New Jersey area, ranging from the McCarter Theatre in Princeton to Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. In addition to writing for Tapinto.net, she does theatre analysis for HometowneTV in Summit. She holds a Bachelor's in Journalism from Penn State and a Master's in Communication from Syracuse University. Liz is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association, which holds seminars at regional theatres across the country as well as in New York City.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

New Providence

Summit Community Blood Drive is Sunday; First 50 donors Will Get a Free Union Theater Movie Pass

June 19, 2018

The weather may have just started to warm up, but New Jersey Blood Services (NJBS) is already urging the public to donate blood as we head into the summer months.  With schools closing and vacations scheduled, less people donate blood from June through August but transfusions are still needed for local patients.   

“We’re especially thankful to our dedicated donors ...

Union County College Hires New Dean of Humanities

CRANFORD – Dr. Melissa R. Sande is the new Dean of Humanities for Union County College. Dr. Sande joined Union in the fall of 2013 as a full-time instructor of English. She has more than ten years of teaching experience and has previously served as a program coordinator, writing tutor, and an adjunct instructor.

As the Dean of Humanities, Dr. Sande will be responsible for the supervision ...

Union County Announces 2018 Recycling Enhancement Grants

$134,600 distributed to 15 municipalities across Union County

UNION COUNTY, NJ -  New Providence is one of 15 municipalities that have received a total of $134,600 in Recycling Enhancement Grants. New Providence received a grant of $10,000 from the program, which aims at improving local recycling rates. it is administered by Union County with funding from the ...

Watchung Borough Mayor and Council Approve Affordable Housing Settlement

June 9, 2018

WATCHUNG, NJ -The Watchung Borough Council voted on Thursday night  to settle its third round affordable housing obligation mandated by the state of New Jersey. Watchung Borough’s immunity from builder's remedy lawsuits  expires on June 30.

 Mayor Stephen Pote was forced to cast the deciding vote after the council deadlocked at 3-3.

Video: Union County Celebrates Pride Month with CommUNITY PRIDE Day Picnic

June 19, 2018

RAHWAY, NJ - Parents, children, friends, and all family members came out on Saturday afternoon to Rahway River Park for the Union County CommUNITY PRIDE Day Picnic.

The family-friendly celebration hosted by the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, was a day of fun activities of arts and crafts, family lawn games, inflatable bounce houses, playground fun and more, along with music by the ...

Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith Attends Gun Safety Bills Signing Ceremony with Gov. Murphy in Trenton

June 14, 2018

TRENTON, NJ -- Mayor Al Smith attended a gun safety package bill signing ceremony at the Richard J. Hughes Justice Complex in Trenton on Wednesday with Governor Phil Murphy. Mayor Smith joined a bipartisan group of local and state elected officials, as well as members of Moms Demand Action of Union County, at the event. 

“As a leader in Sandy Hook Promise, I was happy to accept the ...

Sleep out at Covenant House

June 18, 2018

I can enjoy the same movies over and over like it were the first time to see them.  My kids roll their eyes at this.  Well, many unimaginable things happen as you become a certain age, and you tend to learn to accept those things graciously as gift.   But I remember the movie “The Blind Side.”  Until I saw that movie, I didn’t know homeless children ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_946d04346cba30ae4cb8_st._huberts_3

Wed, June 20, 7:00 AM

Summit YMCA, Summit

Pet Supply Drive at the Summit YMCA to Benefit ...

Giving Back

Carousel_image_7f6c107703df2d416aa6_barre_intesity

Wed, June 20, 8:00 AM

Providence Health and Fitness , New Providence

Barre Intensity

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_9b6d72bb10d15de52ffa_pilates-mat-pic

Wed, June 20, 8:00 AM

Providence Health and Fitness, New Providence

Mat Pilates

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_c64d737a46240c5e09c6_lean_technique_woman

Wed, June 20, 9:00 AM

Providence Health and Fitness, New Providence

Lean, Cardio, Strength, Tone and Stretch

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_c64d737a46240c5e09c6_lean_technique_woman

Wed, June 20, 9:00 AM

Providence Health & Fitness, New Providence

Cardio Sculpt Express

Health & Wellness

Carousel_image_a4801a3d56342db1596a_pilates_reformer

Wed, June 20, 10:00 AM

Providence Health and Fitness, New Providence

Pilates Reformer

Health & Wellness

What's Hot and What's Not

Summer is a great time to take a step back, sip a cool beverage, and take a look at what’s going on in the world of college admissions.  Departments use the summer to evaluate how their year went and plan on any changes they want to make for the fall.  Did they over-enroll? Under-enroll?  What application materials were useful to them?  Which were redundant or time ...