Glory Upon The Stage
Perhaps you have read The Merchant of Venice or seen the 2004 film version with Al Pacino playing Shylock. The current production at Dawson, on until this Saturday, is a very different experience. This production is glory upon the stage, as a marvellous cast of third year students in the Dawson Professional Theatre create each character as an authentic and complex human being.
Marie Dumas’ set design has a mix of a somewhat bourgeois Renaissance and a contemporary flair. The set is composed of two levels, with a long curving staircase on one side. Columns hold up the top level, which has a delicate railing and detailed stone faces as decoration. The finished result looks like an upper class marble living room. As a student of the theatre program, I know the incredible amount of work that goes into sets of this size and grandeur.
The costumes of the different characters express their individual style and flair, and although some of the articles are of period, some seem more contemporary. I noticed some pleather pants and a studded belt that give certain characters a modern look. The costumes add to the striking visual presentation of the piece. Portia, played by Grace Gordon, puts on a stunning red dress. Prince of Aragon, played by Audrey Ferron (left in photo), bounds on stage with a ridiculously large hat.
Some interesting aspects of the play include the use of the actor’s voice in a sound-scape during onstage action. The actor onstage quotes the words of another character. He says the line first and then it is repeated by the actual character in the background. This is a creative and potent effect. Also, it is an inventive choice to have Lancelot Gobbo, played by Liana Bdewi, come out into the audience and interact with the crowd. Playing a boy, Liana gets even the shyest audience member roaring with enthusiasm with her expert use of comic timing and mime.
The emphasis on the bard’s clever sexual innuendos adds further spice to this production. Undeniably carnal undertones are intensified by changes in some of the characters. The director adds a courtesan to the script, played by Audrey Ferron, who introduces the play and talks alluringly to the audience. Also, Salanio, a Venetian man and friend of Antonio in the original text, is played by Kayleigh Choinière (right in photo) as a woman of lusty passion.
“I wanted my character to still have the power and the harshness of a man, and to do that I felt I had to be scary, but also have so much sex appeal that men could not say no.... The sexuality in the play is so apparent in the text, and Jude [the director] wanted to stay true to that and show the darkness and light in all the characters,” Choinière tells us.
The cast works beautifully as an ensemble, and deserves to feel proud of their accomplishment with this difficult text. Two different actors play the infamous role of the money-lender, Shylock: James Soares-Correia (Cast A) and Adam Capriolo (Cast B). They play Shylock as two very different fathers to Jessica, played throughout by Chantale Demole. Soeres-Correia is more distant and respectable, like a father who can’t express his emotions, whereas Capriolo is sterner, demanding the attention of his daughter but not in control of his vehemence. Other aspects of their characters are more similar, such as the choice of a sympathetic approach. Neither play the role as a villain or a clown. Both interpret the complex themes that surround this play with surprising agility.
These themes are still relevant to the students of today, as Jude Beny points out in her notes in the program. “Hate, money, love squabbles — timeless concerns explored by Shakespeare in this controversial play and mirrored in our times by bullying, the debt crisis and adversarial divorce battles.” These are all themes that continue to speak of the battles of humanity, our complex desires, and the jealousies that conquer us all.
If you are interested in seeing the play, it runs until November 26th. Cast A performs the Matinee on the 24th (12:30pm), and on the 25th (8pm). Cast B performs on the 24th and 26th (8pm).