Print this Page

NY Theater Reviews

Seth Numrich and Heather Lind/ Ph: Joan Marcus

VENETIAN JEW

By Robert L. Daniels

A fantastic cast backs up Al Pacino, who makes every moment as new and striking as any other.

Al Pacino has acted the role of Shakespeare's vengeful money lender on film and last summer on the expansive open stage in Central Park. He has honed and polished his remarkable study of the outcast Venetian Jew achieving a high degree of eloquence and passion. The Merchant of Venice is now on Broadway at the Broadhurst Theater under the finely detailed and most assured staging of Daniel Sullivan. As the grizzled Shylock, Mr. Pacino has carefully avoided caricature in a keenly structured study of unleashed passion and fury. His performance is accented by body language that illustrates both the humor and passion of the character. His hands chop the air like the blade of a guillotine, and he shuffles his bent frame about with the spidery stealth of a stalking beast.
 
Pacino is joined by a beautifully well-tuned cast of supporting players, most notably led by Lily Rabe, the daughter of the late Jill Clayburgh and playwright David Rabe. As Portia, the courageous and intelligent heiress, Rabe displays a sense of clarity and poetic grace when disguised as a young Roman lawyer in defense of Antonio, the merchant of the title. She is secure and confident in the courtroom scene, and speaks “the quality of mercy” speech with subtle eloquence.
 
As Bassanio, the young spendthrift and Portia's suitor, David Harbour is splendid. The casket-choosing scene, in which Portia's suitors must choose the right box that contains her picture, is superbly stolen by Isaiah Johnson as the flamboyant Prince of Morocco, who beautifully mines the humor of the character and reminds us along the way that aside from the dark anti-Semitic core, Merchant reveals a broad comic thrust.
 
As Shylock's daughter, Jessica, Heather Lind adds a sweetly vivacious presence. Mark Wendland's set offers a stern facade of movable fences, gates of a Venice with dark corners. The production is rich with dramatic vitality and its mood is fluidly palatable. Shakespeare is back on the boards and most welcome.