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.
The other characters in this carefully plotted Shakespeare classic driven by greed and chaos include Salerino (Francois Battiste), a gentleman friend of Antonio and Bassanio, as well as his friend Solanio (Mathew Rauch); Lorenzo (Bill Heck), a Christian who’s in love with Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Heather Lind); and Gratiano (Jesse L. Martin), Bassanio’s brash friend who slows his roll when he falls for Nerissa (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), Portia’s lady-in-waiting.
And talk about suitors. With the “woman smarter than man thinking” Portia, there’s no man shortage in Belmont for this no-nonsense, cross-dressing heiress. What? Snap!
The soon-to-be Madame Bassanio has three men chasing after her. One, the prince of Morocco (Nyambi Nyambi), traveled all the way from Africa, and another, the prince of Arragon (Max Wright), came from Spain. Both of these suitors had to journey back home empty-handed.
Rounding out the characters are Launcelot Gobbo (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), who provides smart comic relief as Bassanio’s servant who leaves Shylock for employment with Antonio, and Tubal (Richard Topol), Shylock’s friend. In addition to the principal characters, there’s also a 13-member ensemble.
The world of prejudice in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” was a judgmental place where Christians and Jews were at odds because of learned religious and philosophical differences; where sexism and lifestyles were guided by age-old prejudices; and where love, in several cases, like money was measured pound for pound like flesh and not like the unconditional love of a merciful God, inspiring Shakespeare to write the cherished words, “The quality of mercy is not strained.
And with the close of the curtains, Casting Pearls Awards for Theatrical Excellence are presented to Al Pacino, Jesse L. Martin, Hamish Linklater, Byron Jennings, Lily Rabe, Bill Heck, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Max Wright, Nyambi Nyambi Nyambi and Francoise Battiste, as well as Mathew Rauch, Heather Lind, Richard Topol and Gerry Bamman for making The Public Theater’s “The Merchant of Venice” one of the great stage productions of 2010.
For further information, visit www.publictheater.org.
To contact the “Casting Pearls” series team, please e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.