“The Merchant of Venice” is one of William Shakespeare’s most controversial plays. Southwest Shakespeare Company’s production proves it is as timeless as it is contentious.
The plot revolves around a man named Bassanio and his courtship of a woman named Portia. Bassanio needs 3,000 ducats to be her suitor, and he borrows the money from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender, with Bassanio’s merchant friend, Antonio, acting as guarantor on the loan. The terms are steep: If Bassanio can’t repay Shylock on the specified date, Shylock will take a pound of Antonio’s flesh.
The play has been set in pretty much every era and time period imaginable over the past 500 years; Southwest Shakespeare Company sets theirs in the U.S. during the late 1920s, presumably just prior to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that helped trigger the Great Depression. Two rolling panel walls with doors and Art Deco windows, a faux marble floor and counter, braided columns, mannequin torsos draped in 1920 clothes, and a black chalkboard showing New York Stock Exchange rates set the stage for the talented cast of actors, and an oft-disturbing but always powerful story about prejudice, race, and religion.