CONTACT: WINSTON BARCLAY
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0073; fax (319) 384-0024
University Theatres stages Shakespeare's 'Merchant of Venice' March 6-16
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University Theatres Mainstage series will perform William
Shakespeare's dark comedy "The Merchant of Venice" March 6-16 in
E.C. Mabie Theatre of the University of Iowa Theatre Building. Performances
will be at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, March 6-8, and Wednesday through
Saturday, March 12-15, and at 3 p.m. Sundays, March 9 and 16.
In "The Merchant of Venice" Shakespeare weaves a complex web of
love, greed and revenge, played out in a world where money makes the rules,
prejudice is the norm, and it is often difficult to tell the villains from
Antonio, an Italian merchant, borrows money from Shylock, a Jewish money-lender,
to help his spendthrift friend Bassanio woo the heiress Portia. Fed up with
Christian insults, Shylock declines to charge interest but says, apparently
as a joke, that he will instead extract a pound of Antonio's flesh if the
loan is not repaid by a certain date.
When Antonio's ships are lost at sea and he can't repay the loan, Shylock,
who is further annoyed by his daughter's elopement with a Christian, demands
his bond, a pound of flesh. But in true business fashion Portia comes to the
rescue disguised as an attorney.
Director Jon Beaird, for whom this production is a Master of Fine Arts thesis
project, says "The Merchant of Venice" has held a special place
in his theatrical vocation: "'Merchant' was the first play I actually
read as a young child, so it always had this special place for me.
"But also I'm attracted to the darkness of it, and to the charm of it
-- and the question of 'otherness,' the question of how outsiders fit into
society. It's really a timeless problem -- how exactly each of us fits our
piece of the puzzle into this big society. "
Beaird acknowledges that "The Merchant of Venice" is also a troublesome
play for modern audiences, particularly because of its depiction of Shylock,
the Jewish moneylender, but he says that is only one of many sensitive issues.
"In this country it is a play that is shied away from, although it is
one of the two most-frequently produced Shakespeare plays in Great Britain."
"The anti-Semitic content is distinctly there, but I think it's important
to think about it in a different light. It's not just about anti-Semitism,
but it's about an entire group of people who are living on the outside of
society, and trying desperately to fit in.
"When you talk about 'Merchant' you have to talk about the position
of Jewish people in an anti-Semitic society. But it also deals very much with
how women fit into a society that's sexist. Other questions are also important
-- the relationship between parents and children, relationships between men
Beaird says he relishes grappling with these issues of human conflict, and
also finds that one of the play's main attractions is its depiction of the
struggle between mind and heart, between intellect and passion: "I've
come to think of the play as a study in balance -- a play that tries to achieve
a balance where intellectualism is given its full power and passion is given
it's full power, and eventually a balance is achieved."
He also feels that these deeper, more universal issues provide some antidote
to the anti-Semitism of Shakespeare's time that is reflected in the play.
"Shylock is no more a villain than any of the other characters,"
he points out.
"All of these characters are flawed in some way. In the play, through
identifying their flaws and pushing those flaws to the absolute maximum, they
are able to come back to find some balance, and to be better human beings,
and better able to work in the world."
Other artistic contributors to "The Merchant of Venice" are set
designer Alison Ford, costume designer Tisha Janke, lighting designer Dorothy
Png and sound designer Lindsay Kem. Janke recently won first place in an undergraduate
design competition at the regional American College Theatre Festival.
Tickets for "The Merchant of Venice" at $13 ($6 for UI students,
senior citizens and audience members 17 and younger). Tickets may be purchased
in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for
each performance will be available at the Theatre Building box office one
hour before curtain time.
Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday
and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319)
335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER.
Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American
Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills,
and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.
People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should
dial (319) 335-1158. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing
impairment who use that technology.