William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” follows Antonio a merchant and his friend Bassanio who is in love with Portia. Bassanio needs money to go to Belmont and win Portia’s hand so he entreats Antonio to help him borrow from Shylock, a Jewish man with some wealth. Shylock is consistently mistreated by Antonio so Shylock seizes this opportunity for some revenge. If Antonio cannot repay the money, he must give Shylock a pound of his own flesh. The play continues with Shakespeare’s clever dialogue and some very poignant discussions surrounding race, religion, and human dignity.
The cast’s physical prowess and the fantastic use of mask made for a deliciously sensory take on a classic Shakespearian piece.
Matthew Pauli leads the show as Shylock and brings a lovely goofy charm to the character without making him a caricature. He captured Shylock’s very real and valid feelings in a respectful way. Pauli commanded the stage with his powerful presence.
Salerio and Salanio are two comedic characters who pop up throughout the show. Natalie Cutcher and Teresa Spencer play the roles well with great physical comedy. They often enter on their gondolas and it is utterly delightful .
Cutcher and Spencer also appear as Portia and her nurse Nerissa. They play together very well and these two female characters direct much of the story and ultimately save Antonio. These two actors are bright, strong, and completely hilarious.
Alexseyia McBride, a Gallaudet student, makes her Faction of Fools debut as Jessica, Shylock’s daughter. She does the entire role in ASL and it made for a fascinating relationship dynamic for her and the other characters. McBride delivered the role with strength and poise. She gave an empowering performance.
Every actor played at least two characters. Ryan Tumulty showed the greatest variation between his extremely emotional Antonio and his clown-like Launcelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant. His large stature and unfaltering energy carried the show. Tumulty is an actor of diverse skill and fantastic bodily control.
The set design by Daniel Flint was very clever and simple. There was a precious?? Outline of Venice on the back wall and large curtains that were put to effective and varied use to show a change in location. The costumes were designed by Lynly A. Saunders and were strikingly colorful, beautiful, and Shakespearian.
Faction of Fools’ mission is about preserving Commedia dell’Arte in Washington DC and around the world. They are a resident company at Gallaudet University and the entire play was interpreted into ASL by Krystin Balzarini and Dr. Lindsey D. Snyder. Director Paul Reisman has created a beautiful Commedia production of “The Merchant of Venice.” The cast’s physical prowess and the fantastic use of mask made for a deliciously sensory take on a classic Shakespearian piece.
Running Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
“The Merchant of Venice” runs through December 11, 2016, at Gallaudet Eastman Studio. For more information and tickets click here.