Sunday, January 8, 2017

Live Theatre Review - Shakespeare Miami's The Merchant of Venice


Shakespeare Miami’s The Merchant of Venice, directed by Colleen Stovall and staged as the 2017 free Shakespeare in the Park production, opened on January 6, 2017, in Mizner Park.

The set is rather simple: twin stairs leading to a balcony, but it is all that is necessary to carry the audience to Venice. The more important element of the staging comes in the beautiful costumes, elaborate and artfully designed by Stovall. The “tiring scene” where Portia (Thiana Berrick) is dressed by her maids is a fantastic tool to educate on the intricacies of women’s fashion and the challenges faced by dressing in that time. Nerissa’s (Alexandra Grunberg) dress is lovely, and the way she navigates the stairs in it is both delicate and fierce.

The suitors for Portia’s hand are all finely arrayed, and the costumes for Shylock (Seth Trucks) and Tubal (Christopher Lam) are vibrant and adhere to the custom of Jews being required to wear red to identify themselves at all times.

Although this play is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, the atmosphere of this production is more serious than comedic. As it addresses the very heavy subject matter of prejudice, race relations, and religious persecution, this production seems to downplay all but the most comedic of elements. David Tetteh-Quarshie is remarkable as the Moroccan prince who vies for Portia’s hand. He and Jair Bula as Aragon, the second suitor, provide two of the true comedic performances. The other two are the Gobbos: Launcelot Gobbo (Christian Cooper) and his father Old Gobbo (Seth Trucks), whose farcical performances elicited laughs as well.

The cross-dressing device, which at one time must have been a source of great amusement, is less humorous in our time as women commonly dress “as men” – in trousers instead of dresses. Kudos to this production for not camping it up with false facial hair and the like when Portia, Nerissa, and Jessica (Devin Tupler) all pose as men in order to get away with something.

Due to the timing within the play, the first half seems a bit long, but the second half speeds through following the brief intermission.

The trial is well-staged, a clear division between loyalties. You love to hate Gratiano (Arturo Sierra) at his treatment of Shylock after the Jew gets his “justice.”

The character of Shylock is well portrayed though this staging – Shylock is not a good person, but that has nothing to do with his faith. The treatment he is dealt from the opening scene to the closing gives fair explanation of why a person could become like him. And when Trucks deals Shylock’s famous speech – “Hath not a Jew eyes?...” sympathy grows for Shylock such that you are disappointed by the “justice” he receives.

Shakespeare Miami wraps up in Mizner tonight at 6:00 then takes the show on the road for the next three weekends:

COCONUT GROVE - The Barnacle Historic State Park JANUARY 13, 14, 15- 2017

PINECREST - Pinecrest Gardens Shakespeare Stage JANUARY 20, 21 & 22- 2017

HOLLYWOOD - The ArtsPark Amphitheater JANUARY 27 & 28- 2017

Come out, enjoy a night of culture with your entire family (but leave the pets at home, please!), and don’t forget to tip your actors. Shakespeare Miami operates off of the donations of its patrons.

From the website: Shakespeare Miami is a regional non-profit theater company dedicated to live performance of the works of William Shakespeare. The mission of Shakespeare Miami is to promote literacy, culture and a passion for the arts through free performances of the works of William Shakespeare.

The Cost of a family attending a cultural event together has become prohibitively expensive for the average family in America. Schools have cut arts programming and field trips to see live performances. Often, the first live theatrical production a family in South Florida attends is a free Shakespeare in the Park Event.