BWW Review: A MERCHANT OF VENICE Undersells Shakespeare's Comedy in Austin, TX.
Tackling the roles in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, proved to be no easy task for the students at The University of Texas. The heart of the show is a story of prejudice, social standing and ultimately redemption. A young Venetian, Bassanio needs money desperately to woo wealthy heiress Portia into marriage. Asking his friend Antonio for the funds, Antonio in turn borrows money from a local Jewish lender named Shylock. Apart of their contract (with a bit of dark humor), the loan must be repaid in three months or Shylock may exact a pound of flesh from Antonio. Spoilers, he doesn't repay the loan in time and chaos ensues between Shylock and our gentlemen. With many suitors vying for Portia's attention, a tricky quest of caskets is the obstacle to her hand. Other characters intertwine themselves in marriage on both sides of the prejudice further complicating Shylock's relationship with her daughter, escalating her desperation and feelings of betrayal. Adding a modern interpretation to Bassanio and Antonio's friendship into lovers and elevating Portia to reality star status - UT put forth a one of a kind exposition of this classic story.
A highlight within the performance was the creative directing and lighting/projections. With a simple but multi-leveled thrust stage, the flow within the direction helped the show glide from scene to scene and character to character. A neat element incorporated in the show were cameras following our young heiress on stage and projecting a live camera feed above. However strong the foundation is within the direction, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE at UT is a performance that didn't quite hit the mark.
From the end of Act I, it was clear half the players onstage were in a comedy, and half the players onstage were in a tragedy/drama. The magic in a complicated story like THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, is to marry these elements together into a dramedy. The pendulum swinging so far from one genre to the other was confusing and caused the audience to be timid to laughing after such a dramatic interpretation. Making the audience laugh as hard as they've cried between the differing scenes, proved to be a challenge. Left feeling half-fulfilled, I'd recommend catching UT's spring show.
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