Director David Wheeler brought to the Yuba College stage in October the maximum power of Shakespeare’s controversial production, “The Merchant of Venice.”
Audiences who could not get enough of the superb acting applauded the performances from opening night until the last act’s finale.The production was a celebration of every actor and the masterful work of Director David Wheeler, who communicated Shakespeare’s genius and provided acting of the highest quality through Staci Johnson playing Portia, Matt Monaco playing Bassanio, Kevin Muster playing Shylock and Geoffry Wander playing Antonio, the title role.
Monaco, who played Bassanio, fulfilled the highest expectations of excellence in his difficult role of courage, humility, loyalty and virtue that are often marginalized by today’s standards. After the play’s finale, when asked if he had difficulty emulating Bassanio, Monaco, in a quiet, shy manner, responded, “Pretty hard performance to play a straight character. I had to wrestle with myself, in contrast to hiding behind a mask as I did in ‘Godot.’ Everyone did a good job.” He rated the cast as one of the most talented casts he had worked with in a major production.
Displaying a stunning aptitude for Shylock’s blood-thirsty revenge, Kevin Muster convinced audiences in his demand for justice at the cost of Antonio’s flesh. While initially getting off to a slow start on opening night, Munster’s talent exploded into a performance that mesmerized and held the audience glued to each scene.
Carmen Smith played Nerissa, the virtuous lady in waiting to Portia. Smith brought a sweet flavor of honesty and female camaraderie to her supporting role as confidante and friend.
Another role definitely worth noting was the Prince of Morocco, played by Bohannen Orr. His aptitude for acting– especially his accent, characterization, and projection– lit Wheeler’s production on fire, kicking this play into high gear from beginning to end. He gave Shakespeare his due.
A variant to the Yuba College production of “Merchant” was Wheeler’s decision to recast Salerio and Solanio as three female characters. Renamed Salerina, Solania and Salaeia, these women walked onto stage with Bassanio’s arms draped around them. Taking on a new dimension as Bassanio’s “friends,” Alma Montez-Dartez, Amy Aronson and Candee Jensen played teasing female counterparts to Portia.
Playing Portia, Stacy Johnson, took the stage despite being a mother-to-be, “delivering” an excellent performance while dealing with the emotional task of pregnancy. She certainly deserved the applause she received.
During opening night, the audience applauded continuously for five minutes at the end of the play. This powerful drama will stay with audiences for many years to come and was definitely worth every minute of its two and half-hour performance. There is no dollar measure for the value in talent that these actors gave to “The Merchant of Venice.”
After students from Yuba City High school filled a Thursday morning performance, Clinton Hill of Yuba City High said, “It’s good and quite impressive; it’s much better quality than other plays I’ve seen.””The Merchant of Venice” will long be remembered as some of the finest acting ever performed on stage at the Yuba Community College Theater.