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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE MERCHANT OF VENICE
at BAM (The Harvey Theater)

GIVING AS GOOD AS HE GETS BUT NOT FOR LONG
By ROBERT L. DANIELS

  Richard Clothier, Bob Barrett and Kelsey Brookfield

There is no subtlety to be seen on the BAM stage. Speed and conviction mark the staging of The Merchant of Venice, a production by the all-male Propeller company and the year-round U.K Watermill Theater. Shakespeare's dark drama is played out with brute force and unyielding furor.

The sternly cold and shadowy set design by Michael Pavelka is a three tiered block of prison cells. It's a chilly device, and the slamming of cell doors constantly echoes throughout the theater imprisoning the audience in a lock down for which there is no escape.

Edward Hall has staged the play with a clearly one-sided viewpoint, but its a boldly original thrust that is freshly original and compelling. There is no shortage of ideas or focus.

The obdurate money lender of Richard Clothier is ferociously fueled and stridently aggressive. His Shylock is fiercely remorseless and cunningly vindictive. There is little resemblance to Olivier's 1970 poised Victorian gentleman, nor that of Dustin Hoffman's impishly witty 1989 Broadway turn.

Clothier creates a conniving ghetto Jew, but lacking in dignity and intellect. He is all fire and fury, a cunning and complex scoundrel, void of compassion. The taking of a pound of living flesh to repay a debt from Antonio, who is thrust against a table, is a harrowing theatrical moment, stopped at knife point by the clever heiress, Portia. Clothier's scowling villain is more Dickens than Bard, and pointedly focused.

Once Shylock crawls from the stage in humiliation and utter defeat, the play takes on a lighter note, but the comic post-script doesn't play well here. The all male concept while popular in Shakespeare's time takes its toll with the romantic and lyrical conclusion. One is quickly reminded in the final moments that the Bard devised a romantic comedy after all.

Kelsey Brookfield is a steely and beguiling Portia. As the masquerading attorney, his crisply mannered delivery has a rhythmic staccato thrust. Support is keenly drawn from Bob Barrett,offering a study of calm resignation to his fate as the hapless victim of Shylock's wrath. Jack Tarlton's flirtatious Bassanio is boldly drawn and Babou Ceesay adds dignity and poise to the role of the Duke of Venice.

But for a diabolical Shylock, the anti-Semitism that has always surrounded productions of the play has a negative and softened impact here. The blandly unattractive costumes fall far short of period Venetian beauty. For that one need only take a peek at the handsome Al Pacino production, recently aired on New York television. The glamor of summertime in Venice has been replaced in Brooklyn with divine decadence.

 

 


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