×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

New York Theater Review: ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Starring Jonathan Pryce

With:
Jonathan Pryce, Dominic Mafham, Rachel Pickup, Phoebe Pryce, Andy Apollo, Dan Fredenburgh , Dorothea Myer-Bennett, Jolyon Coy.

Jonathan Pryce makes a strong case for Shylock’s infamous demand for a pound of flesh in Shakespeare’s Globe‘s gorgeously stylized production of “The Merchant of Venice.” But in order to pull off this tricky adjustment to the most reviled Jewish character in dramatic literature, director Jonathan Munby had to flip the customary dynamic and turn Shylock’s Christian adversaries into heartless fiends.  The stagecraft is so stunning, and the acting so dazzling, you might think the play had actually been written this way.

Pryce is such an on-demand actor in film and TV roles (from the bewigged Governor Swann in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies to High Sparrow in “Game of Thrones”), it’s a rare treat to catch him at this year’s Lincoln Center Festival in his original and most natural metier as a stage actor par excellence.  Here, he’s giving a towering performance as Shylock, turning one of Shakespeare’s most vilified characters into a tragic figure deserving of compassion.

The Welsh actor delivers Shakespeare’s immortal lines on the common humanity of all mankind — “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions?” — with deeply, honestly felt emotion. Although Shylock is the stern, overly protective patriarch with his daughter, Jessica (played with exquisite sensibility by Pryce’s own daughter, Phoebe Pryce), his grief when she elopes with her Christian lover is pitiful.  And at the end of his trials, when Antonio makes the ultimate demand that this deeply religious Jew renounce his religion and embrace Christianity, the anguish and despair on Pryce’s face is devastating.

Because this Shylock has more pride and dignity than any we’ve seen, his rage at being mocked, spat upon, and otherwise humiliated by the merchant Antonio (Domenic Mafham) feels entirely righteous. The problem, of course, is that Antonio, who is elsewhere portrayed as the kindest and most generous of men, must mutate into a snarling, sneering, anti-Semitic beast. Well, so be it. Mafham, a Royal Shakespeare Company veteran with abundant credits, deals with that jarring character incongruity without breaking a sweat.

Munby assists in bringing out such unorthodox character nuances with copious bits of stage business. Even as he’s negotiating with Shylock for a large loan, Antonio snatches the moneylender’s prayer book and callously drops it to the floor. He spits a fat glob of phlegm onto the front of his cloak. And when the deal is made and sealed with the traditional handshake, he ostentatiously wipes his hand of Shylock’s touch.

The strength of this production owes much to its seductive visual effects. Enhanced by Oliver Fenwick’s shadowy lighting, Mike Britton’s austere black set lends a sinister backdrop for the opulent Renaissance costumes and Commedia dell’arte carnival masks. Lucy Hind’s stately choreographic movements are beautiful, but quite chilling when executed by tall men in black cloaks.

The extraordinary music composed by Jules Maxwell soars through the spacious settings to ominous effect. More medieval than Renaissance, these severely liturgical strains would seem more suitable to the cavernous interiors of medieval monasteries and cathedrals than on the lively streets of Venice in carnival season. But the sonorous sounds are just the ticket for the dark mood of this revisionist production.

Munby reserves his most theatrical effects for the dramatic (if textually suspect) moment when Antonio enthusiastically takes his vengeance on Shylock, undone in the trial scene by the keen wit and passionate oratory of Portia, a dynamic heroine in Rachel Pickup’s animated performance. With full religious pomp, a procession of priests clad in ecclesiastical white vestments conduct portions of the Catholic Mass in high Latin while stripping Shylock of his own religious garb and his Jewish identity. Although this one last piece of stagecraft is totally over the top, submitting this devout Jew to a Catholic baptism gives Pryce one last chance to bare Shylock’s tragic soul while daughter Phoebe’s Jessica sings a keening song of death and loss that cuts like a knife to the heart.

New York Theater Review: 'The Merchant of Venice' Starring Jonathan Pryce

Rose Theater; 997 seats; $115 top. Opened and reviewed July 20, 2016. Running time: TWO HOURS, 50 MIN.

Production: A Lincoln Center Festival presentation of Shakespeare's Globe production of a play in two acts by William Shakespeare.

Creative: Directed by Jonathan Munby. Sets, Mike Britton; lighting, Oliver Fenwick; sound, Christopher Shutt; music, Jules Maxwell; choreography, Lucy Hind; fight direction, Kate Waters; production stage manager, Paul Russell.

Cast: Jonathan Pryce, Dominic Mafham, Rachel Pickup, Phoebe Pryce, Andy Apollo, Dan Fredenburgh , Dorothea Myer-Bennett, Jolyon Coy.

More Legit

  • The Play That Goes Wrong review

    BBC Orders Comedy Series Based on ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

    The BBC has greenlit “The Goes Wrong Show,” a new series based on Mischief Theatre’s popular “The Play That Goes Wrong” stage production about a troupe that puts on disastrous plays. The stage show has transferred from London’s West End to Broadway for a J.J. Abrams-produced version described by Variety as “a broad, silly and [...]

  • By the Way Meet Vera Stark

    Off Broadway Review: 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' by Lynn Nottage

    After writing two harrowing Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, “Sweat” and “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage is entitled to have a little fun. But while this revival of her new play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” walks and talks like a screwball comedy, it has a real brain in its head. Before we get too serious, let’s meet [...]

  • Merrily We Roll AlongRoundabout Theatre CompanyMERRILY

    Off Broadway Review: 'Merrily We Roll Along'

    Like the optimistic youths at the end — or is it the beginning? — of “Merrily We Roll Along,” creatives keep going back to this problematic Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical, re-imagining the show in the hope that the end results will be different this time around. They’re not. But disappointments are often off-set by new [...]

  • My Fair Lady Laura Benanti

    Listen: Laura Benanti on 'My Fair Lady' and the Secret to Her Melania Trump Impersonation

    Laura Benanti is now playing her dream role on Broadway. At the same time, the Tony winner (“Gypsy”) is also playing her toughest part ever. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “It’s the most demanding part I think I’ll probably play,” said Benanti, now appearing as Eliza Doolittle in Lincoln Center Theater’s well-received revival of [...]

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content