Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The Theater of Others is presenting a re-envisioned version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. This play has the most controversial performance history of any of the Bard's plays because of sensitivities about the play's alleged anti-Semitism, a subject that has been even more sensitive since the rise in power of the Nazis in 1933.
That said, it must be remembered that during Shakespeare's time in the late 16th century there was no Jewish community in England. The Jews had been expelled by Edward I in the late 13th century. The Merchant of Venice is an examination of the acidic effects of religious prejudice to this day. This play and I go way back to 1972 when I saw Sir Lawrence Olivier perform Shylock at Strafford Upon Avon. I have also seen the role played by Warren Mitchell, Frank Finlay, and Patrick Stewart.
Glenn Havlan has assembled a perfectly wonderful cast to perform this provocative drama on the stage of the Kelly Cullen Community Auditorium in San Francisco. It's set in the "twisted new future," where Jewish characters Shylock, Tubal, and Jessica are played by African Americans. Federico Edwards is outstanding and has an emotional quality as Shylock. His outrage and anger come to control his choices and he is thrillingly bellicose and manages to substantiate his hated self. When he speaks the words, "Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that" it is sheer poetry.
Supporting Edwards' Shylock are Eric Nelson, who does a stunning portrayal of Antonio, and Gaby Schneider, who is faultless as Portia. Ian Wilcox with his wonderful Shakespearean voice is pitch perfect as Lorenzo. Krista White, Marc Berman, and Tracy Baxter give excellent performances as Jessica, Gratiano, and Tubal. Abdulrahim Harara is a beautifully nuanced Bassanio. Heren Patel in a showy role is impressive as Prince of Morocco. Nick Chapman, Anthony Cohen, John Frediani, Greg Gutting, Shannon Alane Hager, and Courtney Anne Russell all give splendid performances in their respective roles.
Glenn Havlan directs the imaginative production with style and brings out the best in every actor. The cast performs on the stage and off the stage in front of the intimate audience of about 40 seats.
Merchant of Venice runs through April 2, 2017, on Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00 pm and Sunday at 2:00 in the Kelly Cullen Community Auditorium, 220 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco For more information, visit to-sf.org/home.