Very good performances by all of the cast in this solid performance of a difficult play which is why it is not performed much despite some wonderful language. The knowledgeable Shakespeare fan will understand how well Pacino was able to tread the thin line between making Shylock sympathetic versus rotten. This is not easy, and it is crucial to the play which in my opinion is not anti-semitic at all but rather anti-bigotry in general, and specifically anti-anti-semitism. Shylock is clearly the focal character of this play and I think Shakespeare, or whoever actually wrote it, was searching for a way to make his audiences examine their humanity and to understand what made Shylock, with all of his unattractive features, the way he was. Played too sympathetically makes it too obvious and heavy handed. Played to villainously makes us all squirm, and isnt necessary at all. Finally, what are we to make of all the other characters? I think they are ALL arrogant fools in different ways. Akin to many characters in Vanity Fair. And this too is really difficult to bring out without being obvious or making the whole thing boring, and I think this production succeeded in this. The only criticism I have is that I would have preferred either turn of the century or Elizabethan costumes - not men in one and ladies in the other. I suippose there was a point but it went over my head and was a little bit distracting.
This is a splendid production, perfectly directed by Daniel Sullivan and accted by a pitch-perfect cast. Al Pacino is fine and sometimes wonderful as Shylock the moneylender and Lily Rabe is enchanting as Portia. She is capable of lightingup any stage she appears on. This is truly superb theatre, a true oasis in a drab theatre season.
Al Pacino was very good. Too many of the rest of the cast did not impress. I hate to say this, but Ive seen better Merchant productions by regional theaters. Lily Rabe, though, was a standout. Lovely Portia. Very nuanced performance. Marsha Stephanie Blake as Nerissa and Christopher Fitzgerald as Launcelot livened things up and made me think, yes, now were getting somewhere. Alas, we didnt. Merchant is a tough sell these days with its inherent anti-Semitism and misogyny. The "comedy" of making the Jew convert has thankfully dissipated in the 400+ years since it was written. But the language is still beautiful and some of the roles are juicy. Too bad so many actors seemed unprepared. And many of them have long experience with Shakespeare. The costumes, while, yes, odd in terms of mixed periods, were beautiful. Very ingenious set design, but I really wanted more from the actors. Perhaps it was an off night?
Shakespeare is a very hard sell in the United States..as Americans are used to things being over quickly, especially in the age of instant messaging and the internet. If you do decide to go to this production of Merchant of Venice and give it your attention, I assure you will not be disappointed. The cast is great and the production is fairly simple in design and execution. At the performance I attended a Sunday matinee there were alot of teenagers there and they did not seem to be bored. I personally had some minor qualms with time and place..At first you feel its the 1920s around the time of the stock market crash but nothing was changed in the dialogue to imply that it was not 17th century Venice. The costuming is rather off...Men are in semi-modern dress and women adhere to the dress of Shakesperean times...This is rather minor as you quickly become absorbed in the play and the characters.. Bravo Al and company.