Shore Shakespeare offers 'Merchant of Venice'

CENTREVILLE — The Shore Shakespeare Co. invites you to experience William Shakespeare’s most controversial, most problematic and, perhaps, most modern and relevant play: “The Merchant of Venice.”

What should contemporary audiences make of a work whose characters and issues have been debated by audiences, scholars, critics, directors and actors for more than 400 years?

The production opens at Long Wharf Park in Cambridge at 6 p.m. Aug. 30, with an additional performance at the venue the following evening. It then moves to the Oxford Community Center for three performances, 6 p.m. Sept. 6 and 7 and 5 p.m. Sept. 8. The run will close out at the Centreville Wharf with performances at 6 p.m. Sept. 13 and 14.

Set in 16th century Venice, it is on the surface a romantic comedy featuring a love tested by obstacles placed in the path of the lovers. The play also examines the darker themes of intolerance, tribalism, betrayal and revenge — personified in the characters Antonio, a Christian merchant, and Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. As the two plotlines weave together, nothing in “The Merchant of Venice” is quite what it seems to be.

Bassanio is a young wastrel who borrows money from his friend Antonio to woo Portia, a rich heiress. Antonio himself has to borrow the money, on Bassanio’s behalf, from Shylock. Prevented by his faith to pay interest on the loan, Antonio agrees to Shylock’s bizarre proposal that Antonio pledge a pound of his own flesh as collateral.

Bassanio wins Portia. But before they can celebrate their marriage, word arrives that Antonio is unable to pay back the loan to Shylock, and is in danger of his life. Portia sends her lover back to Venice to save his friend. Realizing that the situation is serious enough to threaten her new marriage, she and her gentlewoman Nerissa disguise themselves as men and travel separately to Venice.

A trial is held before the Duke to determine the legality of the contract between Shylock and Antonio. Portia and Nerissa appear, in disguise, as legal scholars to provide expert opinion. The trial does not end well for Shylock.

The company’s production showcases a strong and talented cast including company co-founders Avra Sullivan as Portia and Christian Rogers as Antonio, Brian McGunigle as Shylock, Max Hagan as Bassiano, Howard Mesick as Gratiano, and featuring Jackie Royer, Li Wojehowski, Troy Strootman, Paul Briggs, Samantha Davis, Josh Hansen, John Feldman, Deanna van Skiver and Jane and John Tereby.

The production is co-directed by Christian Rogers and Juanita Wieczoreck, with costume design by Barbi Bedell and technical support by Hope Dorman.

Whatever you think you already know about the play, this production will challenge your assumptions and defy your expectations. “The Merchant of Venice,” in the words of Shakespeare scholar James Shapiro, “scrapes against a bedrock of beliefs about the racial, national, sexual and religious difference of others. I can think of no other literary work that does so as unrelentingly and honestly.”

So honestly that it should be noted that the text contains language that some may find offensive.

The company invites you make plans now to see this thoughtful and honest production.

More information is available at shoreshakespeare.com.

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