BWW Review: THE MERCHANT OF VENICE at STNJ is an Enthralling Season Opener

BWW Review: THE MERCHANT OF VENICE at STNJ is an Enthralling Season Opener

"The devil can cite scripture for his purpose."

By Antonio in Merchant of Venice

The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey (STNJ) opens its 2017 season with a stunning production of William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, a show that has not been performed by the company in 17 years. Directed by Robert Cuccioli, the excellent staging and stellar cast makes this 16th century dark comedy enthralling. STNJ's theme for this year's plays, "The Art of Hope" is well realized in The Merchant of Venice, a story of that reveals social dilemmas and challenges our sensibilities.

The Merchant of Venice tells the tale of Bassanio, a young Venetian who wishes to become one of the many suitors for Portia of Belmont, a beautiful and intelligent heiress. Having squandered his own estate, Bassanio turns to his friend Antonio, a wealthy merchant of Venice for funds. Antonio's ships and merchandise are at sea and his wealth is tied up, yet he agrees to guarantee the debt if Bassanio can secure a loan. Enter Shylock, the Jewish moneylender who is the subject of much loathing and prejudice. Shylock agrees to loan the money on the security of "a pound of flesh" from Antonio. The story becomes tense as Antonio's ships and his fortune are imperiled and Shylock demands the grave payment for the debt. Love and longing, power, greed, religious prejudice, and revenge are some of the thought provoking elements in this classic tale.

STNJ has assembled an outstanding cast that captures the humor, drama and controversy of The Merchant of Venice. They include Andrew Weems as Shylock; Brent Harris as Antonio; Melissa Miller as Portia; John Keabler as Bassanio; Jeffrey M. Bender as Launcelot Gobbo/Prince of Arragon; Jay Leibowitz as Solanio; Ian Gould as Gratiano; Robert S. Gregory as Duke of Venice/Old Gobbo; Anthony Michael Martinez as Lorenzo; Tug Rice as Salerio. Rounding out the cast are Amaia Arana as Jessica; Rachel Towne as Nerissa; Ademide Akintilo as Prince of Morocco; Byron Clohessy; and Joe Penczak.

The Artistic Staff has done a top job of bringing The Merchant of Venice to the stage with scenic design by Brian Ruggaber; sound design by Kari B. Berntson; lighting design by Michael Giannitti; and costume design by Candida Nichols. The Production Stage Manager is Alison Cote.

Bravo to STNJ's Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte and Managing Director Todd Rosen for presenting metro area theatergoers with a superb production of The Merchant of Venice. We look forward to the exciting and promising season ahead.

The Merchant of Venice will be performed at The F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre through Sunday, June 4th. The theatre is located on the Drew University campus, 36 Madison Avenue (at Lancaster Road) Madison, NJ. For tickets and more information call the Box Office at 973.408.5600 and visit

Photo Credit: Jerry Dalia

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