The Monroe County Civic Theatre's Shakepeare in the Park series offers "The Merchant of Venice" in a production shaped by first time director Rance Fawbush.
The plot of "...Merchant..." nicely balances the twin tales of how Portia is to be wedded to the suitor who makes the right choice of three caskets and how a much maligned Jew agrees to lend a vituperative Christian money on condition that failure to pay will cost the debtor a pound of his own flesh.
Following the obligatory introductory scenes the play really begins to roll. In the Civic's production scenes are so quickly set and played that it's almost like cross cutting in a movie. As the stories develop, scenes become longer and more dramatically charged. The culmination is the famous courtroom scene with Portia disguised as a lawyer defending Antonio, the hapless debtor, against the cruel designs of the lender, Shylock .
Although the text of "The Merchant of Venice" consistently refers to the Jewish money lender as a dog, Frank Buzolich's Shylock was more like a wounded lion or bear in his potent anger, dashed pride and final frustration. Holly Hulse was a gracious and yet spirited Portia. As Antonio the Merchant, Amanda Renee Baker was both generous to her friends and spiteful to her enemy.
In a director's note Rance Fawbush says that tried to tone down the anti-Semitism of the play while retaining the basic Jewish-Christian conflict. There is a certain softening and though this still leaves much of the anti-Semitism intact it does serve to highlight the play's trenchant criticism of shallow Christianity.
The Civic's production is straightforward, economical and brisk. The emphasis is on the clear presentation of the language and Saturday night's audience, was alert to the humor of individual speeches and to the verbal jousting that Shakespeare writes so well.