There’s Shakespeare, and then there’s Shakespeare done right. And although “All that glitters is not gold,” The Merchant of Venice presented by Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is definitely the contrary, and is a go-see golden performance. Spoken in Original Pronunciation (OP), this production of The Merchant of Venice is the first-ever to have done so. “In the twinkling of an eye” you enter into the Great Hall at St. Mary’s where the wooden pews, “in-the-round” performance space, natural lighting, and overall “ancient” ambiance make you feel as if you have stepped into an Elizabethan theatre.
A historical tale with contemporary themes of love, hate, greed, racism, classicism and everything in between, The Merchant of Venice is the story of merciless Jewish moneylender, Shylock, who pursues Venetian merchant, Antonio for a literal “pound of flesh” after defaulting on a loan taken out to help his friend Bassanio travel to court the heiress of Belmont, Portia.
For die-hard fans of ‘The Bard’ and Shakespeare newbies alike, this show is an original and one for the ages!
Shylock, played by Ian Blackwell Rogers, was convincingly cunning. His attitude and demeanor-from facial expressions to body language – all shouted cruel, bitter and relentless, which is the epitome of his character. Zach Bewster-Geisz (Antonio/Old Giobbe) brings the loyal and good-hearted nature of Antonio to life. His portrayal of Old Giobbe was so believable, he was virtually unrecognizable doubling as the character. Chris Cotterman as Bassanio was exceptional! Cotterman was lover, friend, and “savior”- all played out with great emotion and dedication to the role. Valerie Dowdle, Portia, was a delight to watch giving a saucy, sassy and sweet performance. Dowdle was everything you’d imagine Shakespeare’s Portia to be, realized. Kathryn Zoerb as Nerissa, is a fantastic actress and played the perfect confidant and companion to Dowdle (Portia). Barbara Madison Hauck as Gratiano will have you completely fooled with her notable depiction of a male character. An excellent play indeed, the entire cast of The Merchant of Venice made a lasting impression in their delivery.
Director Thomas Delise’s adaptation of this performance was realistic and true-to-original Shakespearean performances, with many of the actors playing multiple roles as well as cross-gender roles, which they all executed phenomenally. OP experts David and Ben Crystal did an excellent job working all the actors to bring the authentic sound of Shakespearean’s time; each actor was remarkable.
April Forrer (resident costume designer) did a splendid job designing lavish costumes that were accurate and consistent with the period. Her keen sense of historical period fashion stood out beautifully in contrast to the minimalist set design that was used to recreate the feel of theatre during Shakespeare’s time- and the set proved quite effective in producing an authentic Elizabethan era atmosphere.
Music Director Jim Stimson’s modern musical selections during the pre-show and interlude were fun, familiar and upbeat serenades that make you want to sing-a-long. For die-hard fans of ‘The Bard’ and Shakespeare newbies alike, this show is an original and one for the ages!
Advisory: Adult themes, innuendos, jokes and gestures.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
The Merchant of Venice continues through April 25, 2015 at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory’s location housed at the Saint Mary’s Community Center, 3900 Roland Ave., Baltimore 21211. For tickets, please visit online.