HANOVER, NH—The Hop will present Compagnia de’ Colombari’s acclaimed, outdoor production of The Merchant of Venice—one of Shakespeare’s most powerful yet most paradoxical plays—on Tuesday through Thursday, June 26 through 28, at 8 pm.
In a nod to the stripped-down, open-air productions of Shakespeare’s times, the Dartmouth performances take place under trees and stars in the college’s Bema Outdoor Amphitheater. The production is buoyed by a live musical score composed by Klezmatics founder Frank London, performed by an onstage sextet. The production was created in 2016 to be performed outdoors in Venice’s historic Jewish ghetto, where the play is set.
The cast includes actors known widely for TV and film credits, including John Rothman, a steady presence on stage, film and TV for 40 years including recent memorable roles as comedian Tig Notaro’s widowed father on Amazon’s One Mississippi; and Brazilian actor Sandro Isaack, who plays Pavel, the Slavic orchestra stagehand in Amazon’s Mozart in the Jungle.
The production is a cornerstone of the Hop’s SHIFT series, an array of live arts that kick off summer at the Hop, harkening back to the creative disruption of the 1960s and shifting how we think about music, drama and identity.
Merchant is challenging for modern artists and audiences. On one hand, the play is full of exciting plot twists, sexy intrigue, and soaring language—including the iconic “The Quality Of Mercy Is Not Strain’d” and “Hath not a Jew…” soliloquies. On the other hand, it features Shylock the Jewish moneylender, a character that has long troubled modern audiences, particularly since the Nazi genocide of Jews in World War II. In the play, Shylock is determined to extract a bloody “repayment” for a loan on which the titular merchant, Antonio, has defaulted. Does the play paint Shylock is a victim and despised minority, or as a villain on account of his Jewishness, willing to drive a hard bargain, even to its hideous end?
Led by internationally renowned director Karin Coonrod—an “experimental director [with] a knack for transforming high concepts into accessible theater,” wrote New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley—Compagnia de’ Colombari approaches this loaded question by having Shylock played by five actors of different ethnicities, genders and ages, each emphasizing different aspects of his complex character. Wrote Brantley, “Ms. Coonrod doesn’t make the mistake of presenting her Shylock as holier than the rest. His hunger for vengeance has made him vicious. But you feel viscerally where that rancor comes from.”
Wrote the blog Artfaithhistory.org, “This interpretation allowed Shylock to be elevated into something at once Jewish and universal, representing all outsiders. His rage, grief, frustration, and wit are moving and recognizable.”
Internationally acclaimed for staging classical theater in unusual settings, Coonrod was asked to create to the production in commemorate the 500th anniversary of the ghetto’s founding. Merchant premiered in the US last year at Peak Performances in Montclair, NJ.
“Karin and her actors are magicians,” says Yale University Shakespeare scholar David Kasten (who taught at Dartmouth from 1973 to 1987). “They transformed words written 400 years ago into wondrous theatrical experiences that enchant and inspire and also challenge and disturb. The Merchant of Venice is a play designed to make us uncomfortable and to remind us how hard it is to build a community and how much is lost if we fail to do so. Shakespeare’s play gives us a Venice unable to live up to its highest ideals.”
To set the stage for this special production, Dartmouth professors Susannah Heschel (Jewish Studies) and Patricia McKee (English), who teach the play as part of their popular summer course, “Jews in Modern Europe,” will give a free talk on Monday, June 25 at 5 pm in the Top of the Hop about the play’s relevance today.
While concerns over its anti-Semitism have caused high schools and universities to drop Merchant from syllabi, that’s a mistake, Heschel said in an interview with Smithsonian magazine. “I think it is absolute idiocy for people to say [of Merchant], ‘It’s Anti-Jewish’ and therefore they don’t want to study it,” says Heschel. “It’s a treason to Western Civilization. You might as well go live on the moon.”
Tickets are on sale now on sale for the three night exclusive. For tickets, information and accessibility needs, please visit hop.dartmouth.edu or call the Hopkins Center Box Office at 603.646.2422.