The Merchant of Venice
In Shakespeare’s classic comedy, Antonio is a young man who pledges a pound of his own flesh to a moneylender, Shylock (played by Oscar winner Al Pacino), so a friend can woo his lady-love in style. Antonio learns a hard lesson in loyalty, humanity, friendship and prejudice when the revenge-seeking Shylock comes to collect and he is unable to pay.
You know the story. That Antonio has a young friend, Bassanio, who needs some money and Antonio is kind of tapped out at the moment because all his money is invested in the ships at sea. Bassanio is in love with Portia and he wants to go and visit her, so Antonio says don’t worry, I’ll set you up with Shylock, the money lender. Okay, is this an anti-Semitic play? Yeah, does it help that Al Pacino is playing Shylock? Yeah. This is a huge cast. I think there are 25 people in the cast. It’s a fabulous set, wonderful costumes, and has lots of energy. But the reason to go to see what is somewhat an uncomfortable play, a pound of flesh and all of that, is to see Pacino. He is terrific. He rants. He raves. You worry with him. You see his hubris. You understand why he’s wanting this kind of flesh, he’s been spat upon by these guys. Does Pacino make him a more sympathetic character than Shakespeare intended? No doubt. But it is just a performance of a lifetime, no doubt. Rest of the cast is okay. And it seems to me that Portia should actually be an older woman. It makes a lot more sense that she would be as cunning and as manipulative as she is if she’d basically been stymied by her father’s technique to have a suitor pick a suitable chest, whether gold, silver, or lead. That she should be older and much more cynical, which is why she put Bassanio through such hoops, but Lily Rabe is lovely. I think she’s too young for the part, but I didn’t do the casting and the reason everybody’s going to go see this play is Pacino, four stars.