All that glitters is not gold?
Directed by Helen Borgers for the Long Beach Shakespeare Company at the Richard Goad Theatre, William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice glitters glam and great.
Borgers boldly ventures to stage a non-PC play whose premise revolves around a Jewish moneylender’s estrangement from his contemporaries, his profit motive, his comeuppance, and some counter-comeuppance.
All in the name of love? No, it’s not The Story of Bassanio (Danny Smith) and Portia (Nina Silver). It’s the story of Antonio who borrows money from Shylock (Don Kindle), so his chum Bassanio can ask for Portia’s hand.
Mercantile-wise, it makes sense. Antonio’s got not a few ships laden with goods for re-sale. What are the chances that not one ship would make it to shore and cause Antonio to forfeit that pound of flesh?
Until that reckoning of accounts receivable, it is a love story and a jolly one at that. A rousing “Drink Up, Lads and Lasses,” frames the show. The story brims with vintage romantic comedy: fops (read French) and dandies that must chose, literally, metaphorically, between a gold, silver, and lead box. There are some sweet falling-in-love scenes with Portia and her attendant, Nerissa (Melissa Miller) and some aw-shucks scenes with Bassanio and his friend, Gratiano (Christian DeSario).
But the moment it becomes clear that Shylock will not take triple the money pledged, damn the intervention of the duke of Venice (Clive Rees), the story turns dark.
Kindle’s Shylock was powerful, monomaniacal, and unnerving. With those Marty Feldman eyes and his Young Frankenstein limp, with his constant reference to “I will have my bond" (just like Le Chiffre in Casino Royale), it was clear that revenge, not money, guided his actions. His diabolical red attire was no coincidence.
That little black box theatre then housed a claustrophobic courtroom drama, all the more so since the stage came up within an inch of the first row. We were the jury. And it was a wretched, tough decision we had to make. After all, Shylock was right, right?, until a couple of cross-dressing, pettifogging lawyers (Silver as Portia as lawyer one, Miller as Nerissa as lawyer two) got involved. Figures.
Borgers took what could have been a twittery love story and turned it into something as taut and dramatic as the courtroom scene in To Kill a Mockingbird. And it wasn’t just the script. Silver’s Portia was gossamer lovely; Smith’s Bassanio was a foursquare guy.
The inclusion of live music, some of it written by our own Edmund Velasco, especially a very funny song (Lyrics by the Bard, music by Velasco) in which Portia and Nerissa use rhyme to lure Bassanio to pick the right box, was a nice touch.
It’s period and entertaining but it’s contemporary and relevant. The play’s complex, the production seamless.
Performances are Thu. – Sat., 2 PM, Sun., 2 PM. The show runs until Mar. 31. Tickets are $10-15. The Theatre is located at 4250 Atlantic Ave. For more info call 997-1494 or visit www.lbshakespeare.org.