Ah what treasures Central Park’s Delacorte Theatre does hold! The renowned actor Al Pacino is starring in the Public Theater’s staging of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as Shylock, a viscous vindictive Jew in the Bard’s tricky tragicomedy tale. Directed by the predictably safe Daniel Sullivan the production features a top notch cast that includes an often radiant Lily Rabe, Bryon Jennings and Hamish Linklater along with a sturdy ensemble of accomplished actors. If Sullivan’s production offers little more than a literal interpretation of the text short on nuance and devoid of emotional layers, the actors nonetheless display a commanding flair for Shakespeare’s lush language and the stark revolving black metal staging with the sumptuous park backdrop is a visual delight.
The story follows the friendship of Antonio (Byron Jennings), a Venetian merchant and his loving friendship with Bassanio (Hamish Linklater), who asks Antonia for a loan of 3000 ducats so he may woo the beautiful Portia (Lily Rabe), who lives in Belmont and at her deceased father request must marry the suitor who chooses the correct chest of three (gold, silver and lead) that holds her picture.
Antonio with no liquid assets secures a loan from Shylock, who hates Antonio for his past anti Semitic abuses, but only on the condition that if the loan is not repaid within three months, Shylock will take a pound of the merchant’s flesh as a penalty. Antonio certain that one of his three sailing vessels at sea will return with treasures in time to repay the loan agrees to Shylock’s incredulous terms.
Bassanio sets off to Belmont to woo Portia, who meanwhile is beset with suitors, the Prince of Morocco (Nyambi Nyambi) and the Prince of Arragon (Max Wright), both who fail to select the right chest. In the meantime Shylock’s young daughter Jessica (a lovely Heather Lind) runs off with the young Venetian Lorenzo (a charming Bill Heck) and Shylock incriminates Antonia vowing revenge.
Bassanio and Portia fall madly in love and he marries her after selecting the lead chest, which indeed contains her portrait. Gratiano (a rugged Jesse L Martin), a friend to both Bassanio and Antonio, who has accompanied him on the journey woos and marries Portia’s lady in waiting Nerissa (an amusing Marianne Jean-Baptiste). But the festive wedding celebrations have just begun, when word from Venice arrives that Antonia ships have not returned and now that the time has passed for repayment of the loan Shylock is demanding his pound of flesh.
Bassanio and Gratiano return to Venice to rescue Antonio at the Duke’s court, but their efforts fail to sway the malicious Shylock, who demands nothing more than his pound of flesh hoping Antonio will bleed to death when he cuts into the Christian’s breast to claim his justice.
Back at Belmont Portia devises a scheme for the her and Nerissa to disguise themselves as men and appear as doctors of law at the court in Venice. Once there just when circumstances seem bleakest and Shylock is set to cut into Antonio’s flesh, the women save the day with a technicality in the Venetian law that demands Shylock can take no more nor no less than a pound of flesh and must not spill one drop of blood in the process. Shylock by another technicality in the law is condemned to give up all his assets and possibly his life. The suituation is ripe with the potential for histrionics by Pacino, but the actor throws the moment away with a subtle bleak surrender to the circumstances.
Gordin & Christiano
Performances of The Merchant of Venice will play in repertory with The Winter’s Tale directed by Michael Grief through August 1, 2010.
Tickets to Shakespeare in the Park are free and are distributed two per person at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park at 1 PM on the day of performance. Enter the park at Central Park West and 81st Street. Tickets can also be purchased for $170 visit www.shakespeareinthepark.org or call 212-539-8750 for more information.