Now through August 26th, audiences can enjoy a free performance of “The Merchant of Venice” at the McGlohon Theater at Spirit Square during the Charlotte Shakespeare Festival. Performances occur Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m.
“The Merchant of Venice,” a play by William Shakespeare, follows a typical 16th century Italian plot line with recognizable characters of the fair lady, poor suitor, and rich merchant. The Venetian setting and marriage plot are much like Shakespeare’s early comedies, but the character of Portia, whose heroine act saves the Merchant’s life, and the complex character of Shylock, mark this play unique.
Not surprisingly then, the characters of Portia and Shylock played by Brandi Nicole Feemster and Christian Casper, respectively, run away with the show. Casper’s Shylock is largely stoic and proud, but his deliverance of “I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes?” speech elicits compassion from the audience and a felt realization of the prejudice he has endured. Of course by the end of the speech, Shylock’s likability is diminished by his thrust for revenge. Feemster plays Portia with playfulness and a clear understanding of her position in life as a wealthy heiress unable to choose her husband or her destiny. While the romance between Portia and Bassanio is lackluster at best, the cast emphasizes “Merchant’s” status as a comedy, playing the comedic twists in the final scenes well.
The play is co-directed by Elise Wilkinson and Joe Copley, who are also the founders of the Collaborative Arts Theatre, which surrendered its name to the Charlotte Shakespeare brand this year. A well constructed set with Venetian signifiers made an excellent background for the play, not to mention the awesome setting the McGlohon Theater provides with its colorful stained glass, rich velvet seats and Byzantine dome. A few well-chosen wardrobe pieces like Bassanio’s doublet with puffy slashed sleeves and Portia’s richly colored gown suggested the opulence of the period.
Since the performance is free, a donation is highly recommended, and contributors are entered in a prize drawing. For the best seating, consider arriving 30 to 45 minutes early.