COURTESY BRAD GODA
Stephen Mead as Shylock makes "The Merchant of Venice" a must-see.
Veteran actor Mead superb in difficult role
The Hawaii Shakespeare Festival's long-anticipated production of "The Merchant of Venice" is excellent theater.
"The Merchant of Venice," presented by the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival, continues 7:30 p.m. Thursday to Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the ARTS @ Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave. Tickets are $10 to $18. Call 550-8457 or visit www.HonoluluBoxOffice.com.|
Director Linda Johnson mentions "21st-century sensibilities" in the playbill but makes no concessions to modern notions of political correctness in her approach to the story. Shylock, the moneylender whose Jewish identity has made the play controversial for more than a century, is unquestionably the villain, albeit a tragic one. His destruction stems as much from his fanatical desire for revenge as from the corrosive anti-Jewish prejudices of the Christian majority.
Even so, representing himself in a hostile court, we see Shylock defeated only on a questionable technicality. Had he the benefit of council the caliber of David Schutter or Michael Green, he might have prevailed.
Veteran actor Stephen Mead (Shylock) gives his best performance since his arrival in Hawaii, delivering every word as if the thoughts and emotions were his own. The indignities that fueled Shylock's hatred of Antonio, the titular "merchant" of the story, have already occurred when the action starts, but the pain and rage they caused are felt in Mead's delivery.
Mead also portrays Shylock's softer side - a father's love for his daughter and his understandable fears for her welfare. Mead makes Shylock's "Do we not bleed" speech a dramatic highlights. His performance in the lengthy trial scene is even more compelling - however the outcome of the trial is interpreted by the viewer.
Mead makes this show "don't miss" theater.
Other members of the cast also deserve mention. "Merchant" is about the lives and loves of several sets of characters. Johnson and her cast make their stories interesting, too.
Jack Lawton (Bassanio) and Danielle Vivarttas-Ahrnsbrak (Portia) are nicely matched as the romantic leads. Lawton is consistently entertaining but does his best work in a scene where Bassanio realizes he will be in deep trouble with Portia. Vivarttas-Ahrnsbrak shows impressive range as Portia evolves from a ditzy mental lightweight to a shrewd and thoroughly capable woman.
Patrick A. Karjala (Gratiano) has a number of good moments as Bassanio's rough-edged bachelor buddy. Katherine Aumer-Ryan (Jessica) and Jaeves Iha (Lorenzo) bridge the considerable distance between drama and comedy as Shylock's daughter and the Christian she marries.
Robert St. John (Antonio) is impressive throughout as a good-hearted but apparently bigoted man whose willingness to help a friend almost costs him his life. St. John's work in the court scene displays his finesse as a dramatic actor.
There are also moments of bawdy visual comedy. A scene where Jessica and Lorenzo are interrupted at an inopportune moment was staged with such realism that the couple's performance kept much of the audience from paying full attention to the dramatic action occurring elsewhere. Aumer-Ryan and Iha played the later part of the scene with fine comic effect.
Vivarttas-Ahrnsbrak also contributes as costume, hair and makeup designer. The costumes give the show a nice late-16th-century look; the costume, hair and makeup she designed for Mead add to his show-stopping performance.