"Winningly performed...ISC artistic director Stephen Ponton leads his talented cast at a brisk pace without sacrificing clarity of delivery...
As Shylock, Michael Donato commands the stage — indignant and vengeful for repeated humiliations at the hands of so-called Christians. Slightly bowed, defensive, and ultimately desperate, he's outwitted and undone by the same Venetian justice he's sought refuge in. Donato's performance is meaty and gripping, evoking compassion mixed with revulsion.
But before we arrive at the dramatic courtroom scene, there's a romance (or three) to unwind: chief among them Bassanio (a strong John Triana) wooing the wealthy Portia (a fine Danielle Bates). Portia is bold and free-thinking; at home she's the dutiful daughter, but once disguised as a young male doctor of the law, she's transformed — which Bates delivers eloquently...
Richly costumed by Lauren Cowdery, the tumult of gentlemen and ladies provides a convincing ensemble, with nice bits in certain roles — Scott Whitham as one of Portia's failed suitors, Bryan VanCampen as Shylock's foolish servant and Kelly Fairbrother as his quietly rebellious daughter.
AmArA's set...serves the action well and keeps the cast just inches from the audience on three sides. This spatial intimacy helps one appreciate the acting and become immersed in the story...
Shakespeare's complex portraits of human motivation keep us rapt...a tale as fresh today as four centuries ago."
From the review in The Ithacan:
"The cast, mostly ISC regulars along with Ithaca College sophomores [Kelly] Fairbrother and Sam Adrain, brought this challenging play alive with their energy and dynamic acting. Most of the cast, especially [Danielle] Bates, delivered Shakespeare's language beautifully, conveying both the meaning and the poetry.
The actors make the double-edged personalities of the aristocratic characters believable. With each other, they are kind and jovial, but with Shylock they are racist, cruel and unforgiving, constantly addressing him as "Jew" rather than his name. Bates executed such an incredible and entertaining transformation that it only took the audience a few minutes to realize her intentions. Her instincts are perfect as a young woman who tests her husband's fealty, disguised as a male scholar.
[Michael] Donato in particular is a standout as the "the villainous Jew." He makes Shylock human and reasonable, both committed to his business ideals and guarded against a society prejudiced toward his religion. The showy speeches of Portia's exotic, silly suitors, played by Dan Tubman and Scott Whitman, and the quarrels of Shylock's servant Launcelot Gobbo (Bryan VanCampen) and his father Old Gobbo (Dave Dietrich) provide the much-needed comic relief in this otherwise heavy play. Their comedic timing is spot-on, assisted by their mastery of Shakespeare's rhymes and riddles.
Director Stephen Ponton achieves no small victory in keeping the many interweaving plots of this 15-person cast clear, entertaining and piercing. He successfully finds the rhythm in Shakespeare's words and the balance between comedy and drama.
The effect of double casting three of the actors was quite charming, echoing the original practices in Elizabethan times when actors played multiple roles in each play. Each character they played had a markedly different physicality and personality, distinguished by strong costume choices. The beautiful costumes, designed by Lauren Cowdery, distinguished the affluence, age and nationality of the characters. Shylock's costume was a particularly stunning interpretation of a medieval Jew living in Southern Europe, complete with a yarmulke, layers of rich clothing and black tights.
The set, designed by AmArA, strove to follow the original Shakespearean style of keeping the stage mostly clear with a few strong set pieces to establish place. The bridge was a great touch, giving the actors height as they moved between the two primary playing spaces. The paint treatment created an authentic impression of stone...
This classic tale of loyalty, money and identity remains simultaneously amusing and philosophically challenging, even in the modern day. The ISC's outstanding production of The Merchant of Venice whispers rather than screams — as theater should — to stay wary, but also hopeful, in any society riddled by assumptions, stereotypes and prejudice."
* actors shown with an asterisk after their name appear courtesy of the Actor's Equity Association.
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