Money Talk

The Merchant of Venice leaves us shortchanged.

Overall, this is a cleaner production than I've seen from the CSF in a while, and one that weds the various directorial concepts better with the text. I liked the scene in which Lancelot Gobbo, Shylock's servant, uses a pair of puppets to act out both his own ambivalence about leaving Shylock's employ and a bit of dialogue with his father (in Shakespeare's script, the father actually appears, and it's a tedious and unnecessary scene). Barry Friedman makes Gobbo one of those recognizable everyman clown figures: Buster Keaton with an Italianate edge. And isn't there a touch here of Cabaret's smoky, knowing Emcee?

The first scene between Portia and Nerissa is Delawarean: giggly, gestural, overplayed. But these are talented women, and they inhabit their roles more and more deeply as the evening progresses. The big trial scene has to belong to someone. Usually, it's Shylock. At the Denver Center a couple of years ago, it curled up in the lap of Bill Christ's Antonio. Here, Dandridge takes it, and she's killer -- tall, graceful and beautiful, and with a voice that, when it's animated by real feeling, is pure music. She delivers her "quality of mercy speech" directly to Shylock, her face close to his, in a genuine attempt at conversion, and it's a stunning moment.

Elkins first presents Shylock as a smug, powerful and calculating businessman, and it seems we're going to get a completely original take on the role. There are also some strong emotional moments. But by the trial scene, the performance has lost all specificity and dissolved into a froth of rage, anguish and self-pity.

Carter Pierce Gill and Dennis R. Elkins flesh out 
The Merchant of Venice.
Carter Pierce Gill and Dennis R. Elkins flesh out The Merchant of Venice.


Presented by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival in rotation with The Tempest, As You Like It, Unexpected Shaxpere through August 19, 303- 492-0554,
Mary Rippon Theatre, University of Colorado-Boulder

As written, Bassanio is a bit of a wimp, but Carter Pierce Gill gives him a mixture of intelligence and naiveté that's interesting and very appealing. Chipe is an unusually down-to-earth and spirited Jessica. Stephen Weitz's Gratiano is solid and humorous, and Geoffrey Kent is a capable Lorenzo, though I'd like to have understood his feelings for Jessica more clearly. Does he truly love her? Is he ambivalent about her Jewishness? Has he deserted her at the end? During the trial scene, I found my gaze returning to Zack Fine's silent Tubal again and again -- quite a trick for an actor with no lines -- and the moment that he stood up, looked at Shylock and walked slowly out of the room was very compelling. Even if, like Portia's face-to-face with Shylock, it came straight from the Trevor Nunn production.

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