Theater review: The Merchant of Venice

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From the July 12, 2012 edition

Nature has battered local outdoor theaters lately. A storm last Thursday night sent Actors’ Theatre of Columbus and its Schiller Park audience fleeing into the nearby recreation center to finish its performance of “The Merchant of Venice.” But “hey, ho, the wind and the rain” didn’t entirely dampen the spirits of what appeared to be a lively staging of Shakespeare’s seriously conflicted comedy.

John S. Kuhn, Actors’ artistic director, co-directed with Adam Simon, and Kuhn also portrays Shylock, one of the more thankless roles in the Bard’s canon.

Kuhn does little to blunt Shylock’s sharp edges as the vengeful Jewish moneylender, but he makes exceedingly clear that the vengeance has roots deep in how both Christian merchant Antonio (Nick Baldasare) specifically and Christian society generally have vilified and abused him.

Emphasized here are the comic aspects of “Merchant,” including the flamboyant self-regard of Portia’s two failed suitors (Troy Anthony Harris’ Prince of Morocco and JV Crosno’s Prince of Arragon) and the buffoonery of Adam Poe’s Gratiano and Andy Falter’s Launcelot Gobbo.

At the play’s center stand two appealing performances. Julia Free’s stalwart Portia frets over her unsuitable would-be husbands, lords it over everyone in the courtroom and delights in teasing Bassanio at the end. Mahmoud Osman imbues Bassanio with a believable blend of naivete and earnestness.

One other note: Actors’ new policy of moving inside when bad weather strikes promises fewer cancellations, but it also challenges the adaptability of the actors and the imaginations of the audience.

Credit: Samantha Kuhn photo