Anti-Semitic controversy has played a major role in Western civilization for the past two thousand years. No dramatist in history characterized this phenomenon better than the sixteenth century genius William Shakespeare in one of his most popular plays, “The Merchant of Venice.”In a modern version of “The Merchant of Venice,” director David Wheeler will be producing what promises to be a work of excellence, one of his greatest productions during his twenty-seven year career. Performances begin October 10, at 8 p.m.
The cast combines a new cast of performers with actors of previous Yuba College productions that have drawn large audiences and standing ovations, acting that is among the best of Yuba College’s performances.Geoffrey Wander plays Antonio, a rather lack-luster merchant who emerges as a hopeless depressive who cannot name the source of his melancholy. Antonio throughout the course of the play cannot muster the energy to defend himself from execution.
Kevin Muster plays Shylock, a bloodthirsty Jewish businessman who complains against his treatment at the hands of the Christians. When Shylock is entitled to a pound of Antonio’s flesh by law for non-payment of a loan to Antonio, the plot takes an interesting turn of events.
Staci Johnson plays the wealthy and beautiful Portia, the play’s heroine who must save the men from themselves and, in a very controversial scene, require Shylock to renounce his own Jewish faith.
Matt Monaco plays Bassanio, who intends to win Portia’s hand.
In Belmont, Portia despairs over the terms of her father’s will, which stipulates she must marry the man who correctly chooses from one of three different metal caskets. Nerrissa, played by Carmen Smith, assists Portia as she considers her suitors, including Bassino who must borrow money from Antonio who in turn goes to Shylock for the loan. Money becomes a means of revenge for Shylock, who wishes to even the score for Antonio’s anti Semitic treatment.
Shakespeare gives us a mirror in which to view our conscience and places human nature and on stage to examine and judge ourselves. Wheeler enlarges the mirror and clarifies our reflection by setting the play in Mussolin’s Italy during World War II.
Wheeler said that he chose the twentieth century setting “because it is a controversial topic and the conflict in the play should be more controversial than in Shakespeare’s time.”
“This is the major reason the play is updated to Mussolini’s anti-Jewish laws-not instigated by Hitler,” explained Wheeler. “It is timely to the present. It is not to promote, but raises questions. Are you going to follow the condemnation of Shylock?”
This masterpiece will vividly reflect the humorous and dark tragi-comedy William Shakespeare sought to communicate to the world.