"THE MERCHANT OF VENICE"
Shakespeare's vexing masterpiece offers us unique challenges
as we tackle the play for the first time.


L-R: Jane Bradley as Portia, David Marantz as Shylock, James Davies as Antonio. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.

WHERE AND WHEN:
July 28 to August 13, 2016
La Plaza @ The Clemente Parking Lot, 114 Norfolk Street (E. side of Norfolk St. between Delancey and Rivington)
Thursdays - Saturdays at 8:00 PM
FREE
Subways: F to Delancey Street, M to Essex Street.
Presented by The Drilling Company
Running time 2:10

One of Shakespeare's most problematic works makes its Shakespeare in the Parking Lot debut July 28 to August 13 when Ezra Barnes directs "The Merchant of Venice." In the play, Renaissance motifs of masculine friendship and romantic love are portrayed in contrast to the bitter inhumanity of the moneylender Shylock, whose misfortunes--as a victim of blatant anti-Semitism--are presented so as to arouse understanding and sympathy. The judgment of Shylock as victim or villain confounds, as does the near-impossibility of handling the play's issues in the form of a romantic comedy. It is a challenge that only Shakespeare could have brought off, and he does so masterfully, creating two of his most fascinating characters in Shylock the moneylender (to be played by David Marantz) and Portia the heiress (to be played by Jane Bradley).

In 21 years of producing Shakespeare on the Lower East Side, Shakespeare in the Parking Lot has never before attempted "The Merchant of Venice." The Drilling Company, producer of Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, was wary of the play and baffled about how to approach it in what is historically a very Jewish community. But this year, the company was drawn in by the challenge of solving its apparent contradictions. Part of the play wants to unfold as a fairy tale while the rest of it wants to remain deadly serious. Venice recalls our modern Wall Street, being obsessed with money, while the young Venetians of the play are not as callow as they appear because they have heartfelt considerations. Also troubling is the ever-changing style of the play, which at times is Masque-like, sometimes is heightened and at other times is absolutely sincere. Most of all, the play tends to split the cast and creative staff into arguments about anti-Semitism at the first reading.

One possible strategy to reconcile these conflicts is to play the piece as a comedy about the fickle twists of fate, reasoning that the pound of flesh isn't real to anybody at the beginning of the play and that nobody expects all of Antonio's boats to sink. Shylock gets the news in the middle of realizing that his daughter has abandoned him, taking all his wealth with her, so he demands this absurd loan security to defy his feeling of impotence. That makes the play a commentary on simple misfortune.

You can agree with this logic until you get a Jewish Shylock.

In that respect, The Drilling Company's production will have a powerful creative ballast in actor David Marantz. Artistic Director Hamilton Clancy says, "David has the emotional intelligence to play a character who is complex, suffering from complex antagonisms, who is also Jewish." In the Parking Lot, Marantz has played Falstaff in "Merry Wives of Windsor," Malvolio and Sir Toby Belch in "Twelfth Night" and Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet." Marantz is not observant, nevertheless he feels very strongly about the Jewishness of Shylock, attesting that it connects to his own heritage. He insists, no matter how much the play infers that Shylock's downfall is the result of arbitrary events, you can't persuade the affected character that his misfortune isn't the product of ethnic prejudice. That argument, let us agree, is a damn good reason reason to do the play now, with all its complexity and divergent opinions. It holds a mirror up to the thought processes in societies which are simmering with prejudice and callousness, newly challenged as anti-migrationism and antisemitism congeal into ever more complex forms of right-wing sentiment.

To emphasize these themes' modern relevance, a contemporary setting has been chosen. Venice is re-imagined as the modern Lower East Side, where Yuppie speculators and fast-track financial magnates live and work along side a wide variety of Jewish businessmen. With the mercantile zeal of the money-smitten, everybody hates and suspects each other, as they have in commercial capitals since the beginning of time. Belmont, where Portia lives, is like the Upper East Side. Shylock and Antonio have known each other since childhood, growing up cheek by jowel in a bustling city doing business. And so a timeless story begins...

Actor David Marantz (Shylock) is also Associate Artistic Director of The Drilling Company. This is his ninth Parking Lot show. In 2015 he directed "Romeo and Juliet" for The Drilling Company in Bryant Park. He can also be seen this summer in "A Class Act," a new legal thriller at New World Stages on 50th St. He is a voiceover artist and audio book narrator with over 65 titles available on Audible.com. He is also a veteran of film and TV. Check out his Webseries "Off Off," about an Off-off Broadway theatre company, at www.offoffwebseries.com and on YouTube. (www.davidmarantz.com)

Director Ezra Barnes is making his Shakespeare in the Parking Lot debut with this play. He is an actor, producer, director and teacher. He was the Founding Artistic Director of Connecticut’s Shakespeare on the Sound and led the company from 1996-2008. He was also co-founder and Festival Producer of Westerly, Rhodes Island’s Shakespeare in the Park festival for the Colonial Theatre (1991-93). His acting appearances include the acclaimed New York premiere of Fraser Grace’s "Breakfast With Mugabe," which he also produced. Other Off-Broadway appearances include Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird" (Queens Theater), "In White America" and "Cool Blues" for New Federal Theatre, "The English Bride" at 59e59, "Far and Wide" at the Mint, "Richard II" at The Pearl and "The Miser" for Brave New World. He also acts prolifically in regional theater, TV and film.

Portia, the rich, beautiful, and intelligent heiress who becomes Shylock's prosecutor, will be played by Jane Bradley. She appeared last season as Rosalind in "As You Like It," which debuted in Shakespeare in the Parking Lot last summer and will be remounted July 21 to 23 for Bryant Park Presents Shakespeare.  Reviewing her performance in the Parking Lot, The New York Times (Ken Jaworowski) wrote, "[Jane Bradley is] marvelous as Rosalind, heightening the humor with clever gestures and speaking the speech remarkably well, even over the din of nearby street noise. Her scenes with the fool Touchstone ... and her would-be beau, Orlando... are wonderful by any standard." 

The acting ensemble also includes Bob Arcaro, Peter Bretz, Aly Byatt, Michael V. Carrera, James Davies, Lauriel Friedman, Amanda Fuller, Israel Hillery, Adam Huff, Warren (Ren) Jackson, Eric Paterniani, Michael Sazonov, Richard Steele and Wayne Willinger. Production design is by Jennnifer Varbalow.

 

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