There is a reason we keep coming back to the works of William Shakespeare. Underneath the seemingly confusing language and 16th-century clothing are stories about human beings.
A new adaptation of The Merchant of Venice premiered at the Theater for a New Audience on February 5th in Brooklyn. John Douglas Thompson stars at the eponymous Shylock, a Jewish merchant, whose world is torn apart by two interwoven narratives. His daughter, Jessica (Danaya Esperanza) falls in love with and elopes with a Christian boy, Lorenzo (David Lee Hyunh). As a condition of her vows, she had to convert to Christianity.
Meanwhile, Bassanio (Sanjit De Silva) is in love with Portia (Isabella Arraiza). But he cannot marry her without money. Portia is an heiress whose potential marriage is tied to a challenge tied to her fortune by her late father. Bassanio turns to Antonio (Alfredo Narciso) for advice (and financial assistance) who turns to Shylock for a loan because of his own money problems.
I loved this play. For obvious reasons (ahem, antisemitism) this story is still too relevant. What made it unique was the multi-cultural colorblind cast and the modern clothing worn by the actors. The thing that strikes me about The Merchant of Venice is that if the word “Jew” is replaced by any other ethnicity, the impact would be the same. The hatred, the prejudice, and the accusations would be just as potent.
After watching Thompson play the role, I have a deeper understanding of his character. This is a man who has been verbally assaulted by his neighbors for years. The final nail in the coffin is the loss of his daughter, sending him over the edge and unable to hold in the anger that has been bubbling beneath the surface.
Do I recommend it? Absolutely.
The Merchant of Venice is playing at the Theater for a New Audience until March 6th, 2022. Check the website for ticket availability and showtimes.