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By Mary Kate Nolan
Hometown Weekly Intern
On the evening of June 22, a throng of people, pets, and blood-thirsty mosquitoes gathered at Rocky Woods Reservation in Medfield to see the Gazebo Players of Medfield present William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” on opening night.
The classic play follows Bassanio, a young Venetian who wishes to court a woman named Portia but hasn’t the means to do so. In order to aid his friend Bassanio, Antonio indebts himself to a Jewish moneylender, Shylock, despite their religious differences and resulting bad blood. Trusting that his ships will return in plenty of time to settle the debt, Antonio promises Shylock a pound of his flesh, should he fail to pay Shylock at the appointed time. Soon after, Bassanio passes the test failed by so many other suitors and wins Portia’s hand in marriage. When all of Antonio’s ventures fall through, Bassanio must hasten to try to save his dear friend with his newly-acquired wealth.
The performers did an excellent job of harnessing the humor of Shakespeare, particularly by caricaturing the suitors of Portia. Their interpretation spared the audience of neither sock monkeys nor childish temper tantrums, which kept the crowd laughing.A light sprinkle of rain in the middle of the performance did not discourage the actors as they brought this timeless work to life. The play deals heavily with themes of love, revenge, honor, and anti-Semitism.
The excellent acting of Steven Small, who portrayed Shylock, surely made an impression as he brought the harsh realities of anti-Semitism before the audience.
With regard to this, actress Barbara Schapiro comments that “it reflects the realities of the time, and, despite that … Shakespeare does humanize Shylock and give him some really quite beautiful speeches.”
Director Debbi Finkelstein also comments on the play’s anti-Semitism, saying “ My personal view of Shylock has always been that his only villainy was standing up for himself.”
Small himself suggests that the religious antagonism directed at the Jews throughout the course of the play can serve as a parallel to the religious antagonism toward Muslims in the present day.
While a cursory reading of the script may suggest that Shylock is the villain, cast member Marlee Waleik, who plays Bassanio, thinks that Shakespeare presents his audience with the daunting challenge of determining who is the real protagonist and the real villain, if there even are any.
According to Finkelstein, “Shakespeare fleshes out his characters in a way that everyone has some sort of human foible,” so that each is relatable to audience members and none is blameless.
Is Shylock justified in his pursuit of revenge after an unpaid loan and years of mistreatment from Antonio because of his religion? Do the characters deserve their respective fates or not?
See the Gazebo Players perform on July 29 and 30 at Powisset Farm in Dover or on August 5 and 6 at Bird Park in Walpole to determine the answers for yourself.