More than four hundred years after The Merchant of Venice was first written, the debate continues about Shakespeare's intentions regarding the character of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender.
Actors' Theatre of Columbus tackles this play as its mid-summer offering in order to let audiences decide Shakespeare's intent for themselves. John S. Kuhn, Artistic Director of Actors' Theatre, who is also playing the role of Shylock, promises a nuanced performance from all of the actors in this production.
Kuhn explains: "This very intriguing play, as many of Shakespeare's comedies, has a very serious issue at its heart: How do we treat those that we consider different from ourselves? And as any great play, it raises the question without providing a definitive answer. That it raises the question at all amid so much light-hearted fun is a testament to Shakespeare's brilliance."
The Merchant of Venice will be performed every Thursday through Sunday night, starting at 8 PM, from June 28 to July 29, in the Schiller Park Amphitheatre in historic German Village.
Classified as a tragic comedy, the play is set in 16th century Venice. Much of the play's action is centered on a wealthy heiress, Portia, who must abide by her late father's will in selecting a suitor. Bassanio, who previously had met and fallen in love with Portia, must borrow money from his friend, the wealthy merchant Antonio, in order to compete for her hand in marriage.
When Antonio experiences a devastating financial loss, he defaults on a large loan from Shylock, a much-abused Jewish moneylender-and the vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment instead. The issue comes to a head in a dramatic and riveting courtroom battle between Antonio and Shylock.
According to the Anti-Defamation League: "It is impossible to definitively know what Shakespeare's intent was in creating the character of Shylock. Was Shakespeare drawing on the anti-Semitism of the time and using Shylock as an archetype to get laughs and evoke revulsion? Or, was Shakespeare turning this stereotype on its head to force his audiences to look at and question their own prejudices and fears? While it is likely that Shakespeare never visited Venice, it is also quite possible that he never met a Jew. Nevertheless fears and myths about Jews were ever-present."
This year has been a busy one for Actors' Theatre. Robin Hood, written by local playwright, Philip J. Hickman, completed its record-breaking run last weekend. Next up in Schiller Park is The Merchant of Venice, followed by The Servant of Two Masters, from August 2 to September 2. All performances in Schiller Park start at 8 PM and are offered every Thursday through Sunday nights through the run of the play.
Actors' Theatre is also performing at the Columbus Commons this season, offering The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), 7:30 PM, August 16 to 26 and A Midsummer Night's Dream, 7:30 PM, September 13 to 23.
All performances are free, but donations are encouraged.
For additional information about the upcoming season, visit www.TheActorsTheatre.org or check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.