Weston High Theater Company Tackles Controversial Shakespeare Play in Unique Fashion
The following article is by Weston High School student Seb Pihan:
“Hath not a Jew eyes?” Shylock begs of Christian abusers in what is generally considered Shakespeare’s most controversial play, The Merchant of Venice, which the Weston High School Theater Company is performing this November.
The show is famous for the character of Shylock, a Jew in anti-Semitic Venice who determinedly calls for justice, for himself and for his people, throughout the play. “The play deals with insiders and outsiders based on religion and race, based on sexual orientation and social class, based on physical ability or disability,” says director John Minigan. “Those issues are still with us. It makes the play continually relevant.”
Minigan, who has directed numerous Shakespeare plays, but never The Merchant of Venice, is putting a different spin on things this time around. He has included not one, but two full casts for the play, both of which are slated to perform the show twice.
The decision is bold, given that it is often difficult enough to get one cast ready to perform a Shakespeare play, but cast-members state that they are up to the challenge. Junior James Cebulla, who, along with senior Geoffrey Binney, sees it as a benefit to the show, saying “[Geoffrey and I] have both put a lot of effort into the role. There are times when, if I don’t know something I can always rely on him. If he forgets a line or doesn’t know his blocking he can always rely on me, and I like that aspect to it.” The environment is overall one of support, which inevitably boosts the quality of both productions. Certain students had early fears about problems that double casting might cause, but those fears soon abated. “I was really worried that we would end up copying each other, or that I would feel so sub par,” admits junior Kristen Sands who plays Portia along with senior Grace Harper, “but I think we play it differently.”
Many have called the play anti-Semitic for its portrayal of Shylock, but cast-members are quick to dispel those accusations. Junior Charlie Gold, the sole actor who portrays Shylock, said that Shylock feels like a real person to him. “I feel like Shylock does feel human to me, and that’s because, like every human, Shylock does have emotions, and for a lot of the show he’s very playful.” The show is also famous for the trial scene in which Shylock attempts to claim, through the laws of Venice, a pound of flesh from Antonio the merchant, to be cut off nearest the heart, as punishment for a bond that Antonio fails to repay him.
Because Shylock is only one of three Jewish characters in the play, his very role as villain is enough to raise questions about Shakespeare’s feelings towards the Jewish people. But junior Clark Eglinton thinks people that see it that way are missing the point. “A Jewish character in a play of that time period would be a two-dimensional, greedy, evil villain 100% of the time, and in The Merchant of Venice everyone is greedy and evil at times and everyone is good at times, including Shylock.” The beauty of this play, therefore, is that everyone is depicted in the same manner: as people capable of good or evil. An audience member may well like any character for what they do in one scene and then despise them for what they do in another scene. “I think it’s ultimately very complicated,” argues Director John Minigan. “It sets up a lot of controversial issues of who is inside a dominant culture and who is outside a dominant culture, and then it doesn’t provide any easy answers.”
The Merchant of Venice will have four showings, on November 15th, 16th, and 17th at 7:30pm, and November 18th at 3:00pm. The aptly named “Cast A” will perform on November 15th and 17th, and equally aptly named “Cast One” will perform on November 16th and 18th. When asked why people should come see the show, Kristen Sands best reflected the general feelings of the company. “Everyone should come see the show, not only because it is double cast but because it has fascinating insights into and ways of dealing with humanity’s biggest problems.”
Tickets may be purchased at Weston High between 10:30 and noon and online at ticketriver.com. Cost is $5 for students and $10 for adults. Thursday and Sunday shows are free for Weston students.