Comedic drama mixes grimness with humor

by David Dixon

William Shakespeare’s controversial play “The Merchant of Venice,” tackles issues such as anti-Semitism, greed, resentment and revenge. Did I mention it’s classified as a comedy?

Antonio’s (Donald Carrier), a Christian merchant’s friend, Bassanio (Lucas Hall), needs money to woo an heiress, Portia (Krystel Lucas). Antonio does not have the money, and seeks a loan from a dangerous Jewish moneylender, Shylock (Miles Anderson). Antonio receives 3,000 dockets but is warned that upon default a pound of flesh will be cutout of his body. This scenario sets up many conflicts for the main characters.

Director Adrian Noble treats the material at the 2013 Shakespeare Festival as comedic drama. Numerous scenes are engrossing and intense that “The Merchant of Venice” can be as tough to watch as some of the Bard’s tragedies.

Despite that fact, there are big laughs throughout the play. Noble, always a witty storyteller, stages a couple of sequences that advance the plot while being hysterically funny. The most memorable moments happen in a subplot where several suitors, including the Prince of Morocco (Nic Few) and Tubal, Duke of Venice (Charles Janasz), try to win Portia’s affection. Few and Janasz play them so flamboyantly, that nearly everything they utter ends up being gleefully ridiculous.

Noble is not afraid to delve into serious themes, that are best explored during a lengthy trial in Act II. The audience learns just how far Shylock is willing to go for honor and how intolerance drove him to become a vicious individual.

Although Shylock is not the protagonist, it is the “Merchant’s” most iconic role. Anderson is unforgettable and haunting portraying Shylock as a human being who can be a monster. Similar to Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Jake LaMotta, Anderson makes an unlikeable soul heartbreakingly empathetic.

Shylock is tragic, because of the small details that Noble includes towards the end. His reactions at the end of the trial

Miles Anderson and Krystel Lucas. Courtesy of Michael Lamont.
Miles Anderson and Krystel Lucas. Courtesy of Michael Lamont.

strike an emotional chord and the wordless epilogue is gut-wrenching.

The real hero, I mean heroine, is Portia, though that does not become clear until late into the production. Lucas plays Portia with intelligence and delivers her speeches with passionate power.

As with many of Shakespeare’s best female creations, Portia is strong, brave and consistently the smartest person in the room. In addition, Lucas makes her immediately likeable and captivating.

Mixing humor with grim hopelessness, “The Merchant of Venice” provides for a crowd-pleasing as well as thought-provoking evening. As directed by Noble, the deeply layered performances from Anderson and Lucas make this lively interpretation a winner.

Tickets and information about “The Merchant of Venice” can be found at