The Service provider of Venice, onstage at Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse by August 14, is likely one of the Bard’s romantic comedies, however a few of its Sixteenth-century “laughs” now not resonate as a result of they’re based mostly in anti-Semitic racism.
Trendy productions succeed, as this all-female one does, by addressing the problematic qualities of the present head-on and as humanely as doable. On this staging, although there are many laughs and joys to be discovered, the character of Shylock, the miserly Jewish moneylender, is performed with super sympathy, humanity and tenderness by an incredible Rivka Levin. At any time when she arrives onstage, the tone of the endeavor adjustments. The character’s struggling and destruction, for which audiences in Shakespearean occasions cheered, as a substitute feels just like the tragedy it’s.
It feels as if Levin is enjoying the function of a lifetime, balancing Shylock’s years of mistreatment by the hands of the group towards an unwavering, unmerciful thirst for revenge and justice towards his abusers. Grounding the character in a wounded place whereas different characters curse and spit on Shylock, Levin’s work deserves as massive of an viewers as doable.
Shakespeare gave the character a number of monologues’ value of pleas for compassionate remedy, equal standing in society and extra kindness from his group. The characters within the play fail to succumb to those. However the Atlanta viewers on opening night time applauded a number of moments throughout Levin’s supply of the “Hath not a Jew eyes?” passage, wealthy in emotion.
The plot, although, locations Shylock because the antagonist. The title character of the piece is definitely Antonio (Mary Ruth Ralston), a service provider anticipating an enormous payday, ought to all of his ships are available in with items from across the globe. Antonio is in a somber temper, although, for causes that he can not expressly state.
Antonio’s pricey buddy Bassanio (Kelly Criss) involves him asking for cash. Bassanio desires to courtroom and marry Portia (Future Freeman), an extremely savvy heiress who’s being courted by all kinds of suitors. She checks them with a sport to find out their worthiness.
To get the cash for Bassanio, Antonio ensures a mortgage of three,000 ducats to the moneylender Shylock. Shylock, although, hates Antonio for insulting him repeatedly and treating him as lower than human. Shylock agrees to the mortgage, although, on the situation that Antonio give him a pound of his personal flesh, ought to he default on cost.
In the meantime, Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Anna Holland), plots to rob her father and elope with a Christian named Lorenzo (Tyra Watkins).
With every new twist within the plot working towards him, Shylock develops a need for revenge towards opportunistic, grasping and entitled Christians. When the ships don’t are available in, Shylock calls for cost from Antonio, and all of the characters find yourself in courtroom, the place Antonio fears for his life.
Portia is the character positioned by Shakespeare as probably the most crafty, clever counter to Shylock. And Freeman’s Portia is pleasant enjoyable. A lot of the present’s comedy and romance stems from her, and he or she will get most of the most reducing traces, delivered as asides to the viewers. At one level, typical of the Tavern’s interactive type, Freeman recites her backhanded compliments about Portia’s suitors whereas mentioning members of the viewers, and Freeman delivers the traces with the ability of a slapstick comedian dealing with hecklers.
Kati Grace Brown’s path entails loads of viewers interplay and winking jokes within the textual content. The result’s a energetic manufacturing that’s simply enjoyable to observe.
At any time when the all-female troupe LadyShakes produces a present on the Tavern, the performers and crew embrace the chance with relish, uncovering features of the textual content that makes the strategy really feel recent. The tackle A Midsummer Evening’s Dream final yr was raucous, and The Service provider of Venice generally boasts that very same vibe.
When Bassanio and Portia or secondary comedian couple Gratiano (Cameryn Richardson) and Nerissa (Kelly Clare Toland) spar onstage, the fights really feel like an episode of Jerry Springer in Outdated English. And it really works.
This manufacturing places a really fascinating twist upon the connection of Antonio and Bassanio, suggesting that there’s an unrequited love on the coronary heart of it. This nuanced element, unexpressed till a climactic second, offers new shade to the character of Antonio, and it offers the plot with a stunning quantity of sense.
As Antonio, Ralston is kind of good. She is a really bodily performer, and her face is extremely expressive. The character’s anti-Semitism is disgusting, but Ralston offers her Antonio an entitled vanity towards Levin’s Shylock. This communicates properly, for Antonio was seen as proper when the script was written. However now, occasions have modified. Ralston’s take is layered and complex.
Criss is a heat, emotional presence onstage. Her Bassanio is the romantic hero, however he’s additionally gleefully clueless at moments. All by the second act, this results in laughs and powerful payoffs within the plot.
The ensemble, as an entire, appears to be having a blast with this manufacturing. On the Tavern, performers who’ve performed leads in previous exhibits nonetheless step up and ship sturdy work in minor elements. Enjoying suitors and different minor characters, Jasmine Renee Ellis, recent off Lizzie at Actor’s Specific, and the very humorous Alejandra Ruiz make an affect in a number of scenes.
This Service provider of Venice affords many riches, most particularly the work of Levin.
Benjamin Carr, a member of the American Theatre Critics Affiliation, is an arts journalist and critic who has contributed to ArtsATL since 2019. His performs have been produced at The Winery Theatre in Manhattan, as a part of the Samuel French Off-Off Broadway Brief Play Pageant, and the Heart for Puppetry Arts. His novel Impacted was printed by The Story Plant in 2021.