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Venice in Longfellow Square

On location
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  May 7, 2008
The Merchant of Venice

For three years, Acorn Productions’ Naked Shakespeare Ensemble has offered audiences Shakespearean fare at various Portland bars and alternative-arts venues, in a distinctive “environmental” style, and in tapas-sized portions — sonnets, monologues, and short scenes. This weekend, the ensemble will apply its signature aesthetic to its first Bard banquet: A full-length production of The Merchant of Venice, starring venerable local Equity actors Harlan Baker (as Shylock) and Michael Howard (as Antonio), directed by Michael Levine at One Longfellow Square.

All the venue’s a stage in Naked Shakespeare’s theatrical ethos. The unique architecture of the former Center for Cultural Exchange, with its upper mezzanine, bay window, and multiple doors, lends itself to an extraordinarily dynamic staging, and Levine will use all of it to evoke the Italian settings of Merchant: Shylock’s house will be up in the balcony, Venice’s Rialto along the ramp near the lobby, and the city of Belmont on the actual stage. This blocking (which even includes a rope-swing escape) will allow more seamless scene transitions than is possible in the traditional proscenium. Audience members, either seated in the center house floor or permitted to stand in much of the venue, will be encouraged to swivel and move to get the best view of Levine’s intrepid cast.

Considered one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays,” Merchant is one of the stranger comedies, combining cross-dressing romantic foibles, nuptial keys and riddles, and plenty of wise-cracking alongside its larger dramatic themes of justice and mercy. Levine says that Acorn’s production will make a point of tapping its comedy, clowning, and verbal wit, which he thinks are often obscured by the famously macabre “pound of flesh” that Shylock is legally permitted to exact from the merchant Antonio.

Performances will be accompanied by original live music written and performed by Denis Nye.

The Merchant of Venice | by Acorn Productions | 7:30 pm May 8-9, 2 & 7:30 pm May 10 | Free; online reservations by $5 donation

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  Topics: This Just In , Michael Levine , Naked Shakespeare , Michael Howard ,  More more >
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