Arts & Culture

Trinity Rep adds music to ‘Merchant’

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2012

Anti-Semitism and light-hearted love stories are odd themes to share a stage, but the cast of Trinity Repertory Company shows why “The Merchant of Venice” still packs a centuries-old  punch.

In the latest production of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, which runs until March 4, a strong cast and minimalist set convey the charm that Trinity Rep can pull off in its best moments.

The highlights of the play come from Shakespeare’s script, which juxtaposes light humor with the dark hue of anti-Semitism. When the rich Venetian merchant Antonio (Joe Wilson Jr.) needs money to lend to his friend, the Jewish money-lender Shylock (Stephen Berenson) is there to provide it — at a tremendous personal cost to Antonio.

The play recounts the hatred that the Christians have for Shylock, which he subsequently has for them. Berenson does a tremendous job, approaching his role with a grace that is usually difficult to portray in such an alienated and castigated character.

“The Merchant of Venice” spans the full range of emotions, and the cast excels in exhibiting this diversity. Wilson’s voice is a study in Shakespearian projection and fills the theater with every syllable.

There was no shortage of laughter when the love stories took the foreground during Wednesday’s performance. Fred Sullivan Jr., always a booming presence on the Trinity Rep stage, had the audience in stitches during his portrayal of a Spanish prince vying for the affection of heiress Portia (Mary Davis). Dressed in bright pink and flaunting a hilarious Spanish accent, Sullivan revealed the Bard’s timeless wit. 

Davis is the strongest female role in the production, with a sharp voice and a critical air.

Director Curt Columbus takes advantage of the malleability that the script offers the plot, supplying the production with homoerotic implications.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of Columbus’s interpretation is the moments that are not in the script. The production begins with a song-and-dance number, seemingly unrelated to the plot. Several of these incidental moments occur throughout the production, and they do not necessarily enhance the piece. The play’s strongest moments are the ones that have existed for more than four centuries. The recorded musical accompaniment offers little other than kitsch for the majority of its presence.

The cast members take advantage of the aisles in the theatre, occasionally positioning themselves between viewers. The drama is inescapable for surprised audience members who chance to find a member of the Venetian court standing over their shoulder.

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