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Casting Pearls:Al Pacino's Shylock moves 'The Merchant of Venice' from the Delacorte to Broadway

Misani | 4/12/2011, 5:25 p.m.

Al Pacino, the legendary Tony Award-winning actor, just completed an illustrious eight-week run as Shylock in William Shakespeare's punitive masterpiece, "The Merchant of Venice," brilliantly directed by Daniel Sullivan at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park.

Produced by the Public Theater, the outstanding production played in repertory with "The Winter's Tale," another Shakespeare winner directed by Michael Grief. Beginning performances on June 12, "The Merchant of Venice" had its official opening on June 30, and ran through August 1.

On October 19, Pacino, heralded as one of the finest actors of our times, will reprise his triumphant lead role as Shylock on Broadway when The Public Theater (Artistic Director Oskar Eustic, Executive Director Andrew D. Hamingson, producers Jeffrey Richards, and Jerry Frankel) transfer the production to the Broadhurst Theatre for 78 performances only.

Judging from the sold-out, capacity-filled Delacorte Theater and the long standing lines experienced by many New Yorkers during the summer run, a word to the wise: Get your tickets now for the fall production of "The Merchant of Venice" on Broadway! It's sure to be a quick sell-out.

"The stunning success of our Shakespeare repertory in Central Park this summer will be celebrated by the move of 'The Merchant of Venice' to Broadway," said Eustis. "This is a "Merchant" for our time and our place; thrilling, powerful, American. What fantastic evidence that Shakespeare can speak to us as profoundly now as he did 400 years ago!"

For those who did not see the Delacorte production, you really missed something special. Distinctively flavored with diversity, the outstanding cast included some of the finest stage, film and television talent magnificently portraying several of Shakespeare's most memorable characters. Amongst these was the martyred protagonist Antonio (Byron Jennings), the Venetian merchant who agrees to borrow money from the tragic antagonist Shylock (Al Pacino), a Jewish money lender who charges his clients very high interest rates and is stereotyped and judged because his faith.

Unlike Shylock, Antonio is a Christian who is revered in Venice because he does not demand interest on loans, but goes out of his way to help others, in this case, his friend/relative Bassanio (Hamish Linklater), another Christian who needs money in order pursue the wealthy heiress Portia (Lily Rabe) and marry up. Oh yes, he does love the heiress; however, like Shylock, money is very important and has a major role to play in this romance.

Another thing: As good and kind as Antonio may profess to be, he does not love his brother as he loves himself. To keep it real, let's just say brother-man is prejudiced against Jewish people. Consequently, when Shylock--who hates Antonio because of the ill treatment he has received from him and other Christians--decides to loan the Christian merchant the money, there is one stipulation: In the event Antonio is unable to repay the funds, Shylock demands one pound of his flesh.

But how do you get a pound of flesh without drawing blood? This is one of the significant questions that Shakespeare dared his characters and theatergoers to contemplate in the hard-hitting "The Merchant of Venice," whose age-old, itchy themes extort an ugly face-to-face rendezvous with intolerance, hatred and vengeance.