The Merchant of Venice is a challenging play for many reasons. As Tina Packer said on opening night at Shakespeare and Company, “It is a roller coaster.” The play which she directed runs in repertory until August 21. Even before the Holocaust cast a harsher light on the treatment of Shylock, the structure of the play raises questions as it shifts from comedy to drama to comedy What is not in question in this production is the quality of Jonathan Epstein’s portrayal of Shylock. This is one of the most nuanced, humane and moving performances of the character that one is ever likely to see.
I have always had a problem with Portia, who although she extols the quality of mercy, shows none to Shylock. Bassanio and Lorenzo seemed to me fortune hunters who woo Portia and Jessica for gain as much as anything else. But then we interviewed the actors and my understanding of the characters changed dramatically. As a result I have become convinced that if you want to know about people in a play, ask the actors. For them to give the quality of performances they do, they have to live the people from the inside out. Although I always liked Nerissa, I understood her differently after this interview.
To listen to the interview, click on the link below.