Theatergoers interested in catching a performance of “The Merchant of Venice” may be surprised to learn that they have only to go to Hopewell, where Off-Broadstreet Theater is mounting a production that will stay on the boards through mid-June.
While it is unusual fare for the company, those of you who try it will be very pleasantly surprised.
Robert Thick has prepared the text and, as is usually the case, directed the show — which, by the way, is OBT’s 209th.
Thick has cut the script so the running time is down to two hours. In the process he has made the play and its issues easier to follow.
A dozen actors — most familiar to OBT audience — use a wide range of experience to handle the 17 characters.
Standing out is Barry Abramowitz, who takes on the problematic — is he the victim or the villain? — role of Shylock.
It is probably not necessary to mention that Shylock is the money lender, whose plan to settle a debt by extracting a pound of flesh has become part of the English language, or that the relation of this play to the problem of anti-Semitism has no comfortable solution.
In any case, Abramowitz is striking in the role and has mastered the rhythm of the language and conveys the meaning of what he is saying with complete clarity.
Portia, the major female role, is played by Kyla Mostello. Portia, if you recall, is a wealthy heiress who falls in love with Bassanio, a friend of the wealthy Venetian merchant Antonio. Unfortunately, through a number of circumstances, their fates are tied to the failed loan and the looming pound of flesh payment.
Although most of OBT’s audience undoubtedly knows that things will work out all right in the end, many probably do not remember the details of how that will happen, and OBT’s production will present them with as clear a presentation as can be made of such a messy situation.
Donnelly — the single OBT veteran in the above distressed triangle — does a fine job presenting Portia as an appealing intelligent woman who is also up to deceiving in the interests of saving the situation. Her other creates include OBT’s “Moon Over the Brewery” and productions with ActorsNet, Town & Country, Playmaster, Foundation Theater, and the Langhorne Players.
Steve Lobis, in his seventh OBT production and most recently seen at OBT in “Moon Over the Brewery,” takes on Antonio, with John Helmke as Bassanio. Other cast members include Milika Cheree Griffiths, Alice Patton, George Agalias, Benj Nelson, Robert Risch, Jerry Smith, Shawn Doremus, and Igor Correa Wetter.
It may be worth repeating that most theatergoers will probably not think of OBT when they think of Shakespeare, but those who risk it will be in for a pleasant surprise. The company has done a very convincing job.
Obviously, the size of the house, and more directly, the size of the stage, will affect the production, but many theatergoers are addicted to Shakespeare in small houses. There’s a special pleasure in being able to hear the lines clearly without straining. It also means that young actors don’t have to worry about projecting.
The decision was made to use period costumes — from Rittzy Costumes. It was a wise move — and an illuminating choice — that increased the pleasure of attending this production.
The Merchant of Venice, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, June 14, with performances Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 2:30 p.m.. The theater is open for coffee and dessert one hour before curtain. $27 to $31.50. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.