Print Edition: March 6, 2013
Belmont is the heart of romance, deceptive appearances and friendship, while Venice is the portrait of law, business and the role of money. The two settings serve as focal points for differing themes in the third play for the 33rd theatre season at UFV: The Merchant of Venice.
Societal class, mercy and culture are also examined. And of course, like most of Shakespeare’s plays, it comments on the complexity of the human condition.
The play, a comedy, follows in particular three main characters: Shylock, Antonio and Portia. The wealthy noble Portia (played by Rebecca MacEachern-Eastwood) is now seeking a suitor. Antonio (played by Gabriel Kirkley) is a merchant, out of money at the time, who seeks a loan for his good friend Bassanio to be able to pursue his love interest, Portia. The third character Shylock, played by Ron Jackson, is a moneylender who offers to loan Antonio the money required interest free. However, this is only if Antonio agrees to offer up a pound of his own flesh should one of his merchant ships not come in with the money to be repaid.
As a comedy, the play delves into its sometimes dark and sometimes controversial themes with a sense of humour. Bruce Kirkley, the play’s director, explains the controversial, anti-semitic aspects as being inherent to the perspective of the rich upper class during Shakespeare’s time. Oppression often occurs in history when one social group is dominant over another, and it’s important to keep this in mind. Bruce doesn’t wish to cover over the original perspective, and he also sees the bigger picture.
“The play is a comedy, and I believe needs to be treated with a light touch. You don’t want to burden it with too much heavy moralizing,” he explains.
Bruce Kirkley has chosen 1912, the era of la Belle Époque, as the time period. Bruce describes the era as a time where many high class citizens still lived in a dreamlike state of bliss, unaware of the wars and dramatic political changes that would occur in the world soon after. It was a time period that could be related to the class-oriented world that Shakespeare would have lived in.
The costume direction goes along with the 1912 setting. Jaclyn Singh, the costume designer, describes her designs as being influenced by Downton Abbey, Titanic, and Art Nouveau. For Belmont outfits, especially for the ladies, the costumes are intended to be dream-like, elegant and very romantic, while Venetian outfits are more business oriented.
As the head technician, Mark Sutherland is involved in sets, lighting and sound. Helping to train a lot of the crew on all the equipment, he is especially astounded by the quick aptitude of the crew this time around.
“They’re dedicated, they’re focused and they’ve got a professional standard about them that is really encouraging from my perspective,” Mark exclaims. “In fact we were able to accomplish things much faster than we have on some of our other productions.”
Sanday Tait, the production manager, describes the play as being more accessible than many of Shakespeare’s other works. The plot, and everything that happens under it, is easy to follow. Unlike much of Shakespeare’s work, the situations are still relevant and are experienced by people even today. “The language in it is also very, very accessible,” Tait says. “I would say if you want to get a taste of Shakespeare, or if you’re a little afraid of Shakespeare, don’t be, because this one is one of his easier ones to understand.”
Bruce Kirkley is enthused about how well the play has come along. “Everything is coming together beautifully, and I think we’re all looking forward to presenting this fascinating play to audiences.”
The Merchant of Venice starts Friday, March 8, at 7:30 p.m. in the theatre on the Chilliwack North campus at the corner of Yale and Airport, and runs until March 23. There are two half-price previews March 6 and 7, and two matinees March 13 and 14. Ticket prices run from $10 to $22, except for the matinee on March 17, which is a pay-what-you-can event. You can buy tickets from the UFV theatre box office on the Chilliwack North Campus, or over the phone at (604) 795-2814.