Tina Packer’s multi-cultural, multi-ethnic “Merchant of Venice” starts July 1st

Shakespeare & Company will commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard during this 39th performance season with a newly configured theatre, and will debut its first production in-the-round with The Merchant of Venice, directed by Founder Tina Packer and featuring Jonathan Epstein as Shylock. This controversial and poignant play opens the Tina Packer Playhouse on July 1, 2016 and runs through August 21.

“The Merchant of Venice is a passionate, wide-ranging play about love and bigotry,” says Director Tina Packer. “Every person in the play is dealing with harsh constraints, every person in the play is racist and sexist, ill-will abounds, but somehow a wiser understanding is possible by the end. I think Shakespeare wrote this play when he was at the crossroads himself, immersed in London life, interacting with many people of different races, where making money and surviving other people’s prejudice was an everyday occurrence. The actors’ art demands that we inhabit lives unlike our own, so the ability to live behind the mask and then take it off is one of the leitmotifs of this production. We are also discovering the joy and humor within the play, and the power of love and the deep need for this in all of us – those on-stage and off-stage. ”

A divided love. A tragic history. An infamous wager. Shakespeare’s most debated play offers a visceral display of courtship, prejudice, clashing religions, money and revenge. Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer reunites with longtime Company member Jonathan Epstein as Shylock, the Bard’s memorable and highly charged outsider.

“Everyone in the play is negotiating the complexities of their lives,” continues Packer. “They are faced with deep philosophical, political, personal and emotionally charged questions. What are you willing to die for? And even more importantly – what are you willing to live with? And what deeper understanding can come by asking these questions? It has been a powerful experience working on this play again with Jonny – we’ve both learned a lot in 20yrs. I have a crack team of artists working on the show with me including long-time Company actor Elizabeth Aspenlieder, who is stepping into a new role with me as my Associate Director. This is a multi-ethnic and cultural endeavor with artists joining us from around the world including 2 Israelis, 1 Indian, 3 Brits, 2 Canadians and 10 Americans – 5 of which are African American. It’s a multi-racial cast that isn’t necessarily playing in traditional racial, religious or gender specific roles – except when they are,” Packer adds with a chuckle.

Packer’s production of The Merchant of Venice features a cast of long-time Company actors including Jonathan Epstein as Shylock, with John Hadden (Antonio), Jason Asprey (Graziano), Kate Abbruzzese (Jessica), Peter Andersen (Solanio), Erick Avari (Duke/Morocco/Aragon), Thomas Brazzle (Gobbo), Cloteal L. Horne (Salarino), and Dylan Wittrock (Salerio). Actors new to the Company include, Tamara Hickey (Portia), Shahar Isaac (Bassanio), Bella Merlin (Nerissa), Michael Fuchs (Old Gobbo/Tubal), and Deaon Griffin-Pressley (Lorenzo). The creative team includes Kris Stone (Set Design), Matthew Miller (Lighting Design), Daniel Levy (Sound Design), Tyler Kinney (Costume Design) and Kristin Wold (Choreography).

With a running time under three hours including intermission, tickets for The Merchant of Venice are available online at http://www.shakespeare.org, or by calling Shakespeare & Company at (413) 637-3353 during box office hours. The Tina Packer Playhouse is air-conditioned and wheelchair accessible. Shakespeare & Company is located at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, Massachusetts.

The Production Team

The Merchant of Venice
by William Shakespeare

Director: Tina Packer
Associate Director: Elizabeth Aspenlieder
Assistant Directors: Noa Egozi & Raphael Massie
Set Designer: Kris Stone
Lighting Designer: Matthew Miller
Composer/Sound Designer: Daniel Levy
Costume Designer: Tyler Kinney
Costume Design Assistant: Kenneth Rainey
Voice and Text Coaching: Gwendolyn Schwinke
Movement/Choreographer: Kristin Wold
Fight Choreographer: Kevin Coleman
Fight Captain: Jason Asprey
Sound Board Op: Iain Fisher
Light Board Op: Max Lagonia
Wardrobe: Keira McGee & Rebecca Regina
Stage Manager: Laura Kathryne Gomez
Assistant SMs: Hope Rose Kelly, Kathleen Soltan, Liza Miller

The Cast

Jessica: Kate Abbruzzese
Solanio: Peter Andersen
Graziano: Jason Asprey
Duke/Morocco/Aragon: Erick Avari
Gobbo: Thomas Brazzle
Shylock: Jonathan Epstein
Old Gobbo/Tubal: Michael Fuchs
Lorenzo: Deaon Griffin-Pressley
Antonio: John Hadden
Portia: Tamara Hickey
Salarino: Cloteal L. Horne
Bassanio: Shahar Isaac
Nerissa: Bella Merlin
Salerio: Dylan Wittrock

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