Actors’ Theatre of Columbus kicked off its season in May with “Robin Hood,” so the show opening this week is our first chance in 2012 to see what the troupe is best known for: Shakespeare. The monthlong production of “The Merchant of Venice” will be fun, free midsummer night’s entertainment.
For those whose memories of high school English classes are fading, “Merchant” is the tragic comedy about a guy named Bassanio who needs money so he can impress a lady, Portia. His buddy Antonio wants to help him out but doesn’t have the funds, so he agrees to be a guarantor for a loan.
Shylock, a Jewish moneylender with a grudge against Antonio, offers a loan, but says he will be entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh if the money cannot be repaid. Bassanio takes the loan. Things don’t work out as planned. Cue Portia, dressed as a man, to try to save the day.
Let’s just say that Shakespeare embraced what was stylish in those days — anti-Semitism — and made the villainous Skylock a Jewish character on purpose (maybe Shakespeare wasn’t as perfect as we tend to think). According to Artistic Director John S. Kuhn, Actors’ Theatre is attempting to make the play a little less bigoted and offer a more nuanced representation of the issues between the Jews and Christians at the time of the Renaissance.
Credit: Samantha Kuhn photos