A mixed crowd of college students, cuddling couples, girls-night-outers and seasoned theatre-goers arrive in dresses and suits topped with fedora hats at the Old Globe for a performance of The Merchant of Venice. The tone is set by the receptive audience, ready to laugh at the intelligent jabs at the human condition.
It begins in a café enjoying fine cigars and food with Donald Carrier (Antonio) and his cronies. Carrier’s Antonio loves to tip the waiters, enjoying a life he really doesn’t own. Laughs are heard as Triney Sandoval (Gratiano) is grabbed to leave the café as he continues talking. An applause getter, John Lavelle (Lancelot-Shylock’s servant) speaks to the audience of his conscience in his possessed demonic voice and his angelic voice. His angels on his shoulders volley and fall to the floor. He accidentally steps on his angel, making a pixie noise. He picks up the imaginary angel and puts it back on his shoulder for more banter in his silly voices.
Jokes aside, this production gets down to the nitty gritty with a balance of the Antonio, Shylock, Jessica, Bassanio and Portia characters all in the pursuit of happiness or greed. The theme of greed or materialism is touched on by Ryman Sneed (Nerissa) in her words to Portia: “Superfluity comes sooner by white hairs, but competency lives longer.” Though the players call each other Jews and Christians in a derogatory manner, it’s their behavior that creates no winner in the end. Most of the players hate Miles Anderson (Shylock) because he’s a Jew, so they say, characterizing him. It seems as though he has only one friend in Charles Janasz (Tubal) who doesn’t completely sympathize with Shylock in his whispers. Shylock has what many want—money. Anderson (Shylock) speaks seriously to Carrier (Antonio) that he will lend him money but expects it back, or a pound of flesh will be taken. It’s the principle of the matter in Anderson’s words, but he fails to see his arrogance as he walks around with his stacks of money. Lucas Hall (Bassanio) asks Anderson kindly to free Antonio of his debt since it was he who needed the money for Portia. Carrier’s Antonio does not approach the conversation. Instead, he is seen in a weak moment standing solemnly, needing forgiveness. Anderson is the villain until he moves in hesitation as he tries to figure out how to take his pound of flesh without a drop of blood. He looks beaten after he loses in court. It’s not until the last scene there is pity for this Shylock: he’s destitute looking through the door at his daughter in sorrow. Like Antonio, he yearns for what he never really had.
Krytel Lucas (Portia) nervously grabs her servant as each suitor tries to solve the riddle and find her picture in one of the three chests. Nic Few (Prince of Morocco) walks in superciliously, touching Portia, speaking with a slight lisp and an overabundance of spit that makes its way into the audience like Shamu splashes the front row at nearby Sea World. Christopher Salazar (Prince of Arragon) walks in oblivious that the woman before him is too beautiful for him. He speaks in a heavy lisp as he reads the riddles, rigidly getting on one knee as if too heavy to bend down. When Lucas Hall (Bassanio) arrives Krystel Lucas (Portia) contains herself, finding it difficult to hide her love for Bassanio. Hall is young and handsome with curly blond hair, in a dapper suit; he charmingly figures out the riddle. When he finds the photo Krystel Lucas (Portia) quickly shows a big smile behind his back. An audience member admiringly comments, “There’s that smile.”
Toward the end, Adam Gerber (Lorenzo) speaks romantically to Winslow Corbett (Jessica) about the bright moon at about the time when the Sea World fireworks could be heard. The two lovers tease each other “in such a night” comparing their love to other famous lovers. Corbett laughs as Gerber gets personal, pointing out she stole money from her father and calls her a shrew.
The players are inspired and comfortable in costume designer Deirdre Clancy’s works of art. She has a style that communicates days gone by, mixed with today’s relatable colors through interpretive costume design. Ryman Sneed’s (Nerissa) dress is made of light grey taffeta to the floor with three-quarter sleeves ending in flowing lace and a scoop neck bordered in lace. Some of the dresses have lite drapery with slight bustling, a hint of the Victorian Era. Other current splashes of color are in Shylock’s aqua ascot with paisley. A pale yellow dress, worn by Jessica, shines in lighting designed by Alan Burrett. One of the men’s suit worn by Bassanio is crisp in different shades of white. The coat is cream with light blue stripes and a pale peach tie. Antonio is dressed in a black over coat and top hat showing his need for the finer things in life.
Set designer Ralph Funicello sets the mood for the text. White wood planks stay on the stage from beginning to end; they are loosely used as streets and rooms, but look like a dock with water—hinting at Antonio’s ships at sea. Carefully, the café rises from the trap door that is covered by dark blue-black material. For Portia’s room a glass wall wheels onto the stage. Pillows are used for sitting and candles for ambience.
Director Adrian Noble’s contribution comes to an end on his fourth year as the Festival Artistic Director. Under his leadership, actors, set designers and costume designers have flourished with his vision of communicating the text. He has asked himself WWSD (What would Shakespeare do?) He emulated Shakespeare by building a company of strong leading actors with room for apprentice actors.
The Old Globe’s Merchant is a production that shows the wrong doing on both sides in this time of unrest with the close of the Zimmerman trial and world affairs, such as the Israel and Palestine conflict. In the end, this tragicomedy shows human nature preventing coexistence.