The play, to be performed in the Robert E. Will Theatre, Fine Arts Center, 105 Upper College Road, Kingston Campus, will run April 16 through 18 and 23 through 25 at 7:30 p.m. and April 19 and April 26 at 3 p.m. Admission is $14 for the general public, $10 for senior citizens and URI faculty/staff, $8 students.
The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare is a fascinating tale conveyed with exquisite poetry and set in the Venice of Renaissance Italy. It tells two stories: one is of love and marriage; the other of usury, prejudice and revenge. The stories feature two remarkable characters: Portia an educated, strong heroine and Shylock, a moneylender who is a Jew. How their stories and those of her suitors and his daughter converge in a Venetian court of law mesmerize us with its ingenious solution to an astonishing dilemma and pose moral and social questions with which we struggle today.
The Merchant of Venice delights us with its tale of friendship, love, marriage and commerce, while troubling us with its casual display of religious and racial prejudice, particularly hatred of the Jew. Anti-Semitism was integral to most Christian homogeneous societies during the Renaissance. Though there probably were no Jews in England at this time, Shakespeare drew upon the archetypes of literature and mythology and Jews were often portrayed as comic figures with hook noses and red wigs.
Later, actors often chose to make the Jewish moneylender, Shylock, a sympathetic character. In Venice, Jews were spat upon, locked in ghettoes at night and ostracized in various ways.
“Does the use of these facts make Shakespeare less of a poet? I think not. Shakespeare was a poet for the ages but he was a man of his time, educated with his contemporaries to share what we would term unsavory beliefs,” says Bryna Wortman, associate professor in URI’s Theatre Department. “ Yet even he gives Shylock remarkable power “Hath not a Jew eyes”? (Act 3, Scene l).”
Shylock is basically isolated in Shakespeare’s Venetian Christian society. His daughter, Jessica, takes his valuables, elopes with Lorenzo and converts to Christianity. Shylock is bereft.
Balancing this dark theme is Portia, the educated, lovely, wealthy heiress of Belmont whom Bassanio woos and wins by choosing the correct casket, a task designated by Portia’s father before he died. Bassanio depends on his beloved and loving friend Antonio, the merchant of Venice who allows him to guarantee the credit borrowed from Shylock. The penalty is a pound of flesh.
What happens when Antonio’s ships are lost at sea, when Shylock brings Antonio to court, when Portia, disguised as a male judge, tries to mediate the case to save Antonio, and when two wedding rings are given away drives this exciting story to its strong lyrical conclusion.
“Peopled with unique characters, exquisite poetry, comedic scenes, and music created and performed by URI Theatre students, The Merchant of Venice, explores the role of money and commerce, and their relationship to friendship, love, marriage and prejudice. Though streaked with humor and joy, we as an audience are constantly made aware of the existing prejudices of Shakespeare’s time which unstopped through the centuries has taken an enormous toll. Rather than censor this disturbing play, we at URI Theatre invite you to enjoy it, discuss it and to oppose its ugly prejudices,” says the director.
There will be a post-performance panel discussion entitled, Shakespeare: A Poet for the Ages – A Man of this Time, following the Sunday, April 14 matinee performance. Panelists are Professor Joelle Rollo-Koster, URI History Department, Assistant Professor Travis Williams, URI English Department and Wortman who will moderate. In addition to the panel discussion, the director and company will offer a question and answer session after the performances.
Wortman has also directed Grapes of Wrath, Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Angels in America, Diary of Anne Frank, and An Ideal Husband. Set design is by Cheryl deWardener, costume design by David T. Howard, lighting design by Christian Wittwer and sound design by Michael Hyde.
For more information or to make reservations, call 401.874.5843. To be included on the theatre mailing list, call 401.874.5921.
Members of the cast, their characters, and hometowns follow:
Cast Character Hometown
Luke Allard, Solanio,N. Smithfield
Collin Brown, The Duke of Venice, N. Kingstown
Carlos Campbell, Prince of Morocco, Providence
Albert Coelho, Attendant, E. Providence
Michael Commendatore Salerio, Providence
Jesse Dufault, Prince of Arragon/ Stephano/Musician, Narragansett
Benjamin Gracia, Shylock, E. Providence
Travis Greene, Salarino, N. Kingstown
Benjamin Grills, Bassanio, Ashaway
Shannon Hartman, Musician, Attendant, Coventry
Nile Hawver, Lorenzo, Musician, Coventry
Gregory Infussi, Gratiano, N. Providence
Frank Juarez, Musician/Jailer/Attendant/Balthazar Long Island, N.Y.
Lara Maynard, Jessica, Cumberland
Elise G. Petrarca, Portia, Johnston
Vince Petronio, Antonio, E. Greenwich
Michael Puppi, Tubal, Narragansett
Johnny Sederquist, Lancelet, Middleboro, Mass.
Micah Tougas, Nerissa, W. Kingston
Joshua Andrews, Lancelet, West Greenwich
Miles Boucher, Antonio, Coventry
Albert Coelho, Prince of Morocco, Attendant, E. Providence
Cory Crew, Jr., Dube, Salarino, Putnum Valley, N.Y.
Nora Eschenheimer, Portia, Newport
William Fournier, Gratiano, Solanio, Cambridge, England
Kira Hawkridge, Jessica, Pawtucket
Frank Juarez, Prince of Arragon, Long Island, N.Y.
Melanie Kane, Nerissa, Exeter
Michael Puppi, Shylock, Narragansett
Matthew Rodgers, Bassanio, N. Dartmouth, Mass.
URI Communication Studies Professor Vince Petronio of East Greenwich (center) and URI students (l-r) Ben Grills of Ashaway, Elise Petrarca of Johnston, Lara Maynard of Cumberland. URI photo by Randy Osga.