BLOOMSBURG - The Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble has tapped one of Shakespeare's most thought-provoking plays, "The Merchant of Venice," to kick off its 2013-14 season.
This "urgent, pared-down version" has 7:30 p.m. performances Friday, Saturday and Oct. 18-19, with 3 p.m. matinees on Oct. 13 and 20 at the Alvina Krause Theatre, 226 Center St.
The cast is headed by BTE's James Goode who plays Antonio, the wealthy "Merchant of Venice"; guest artist in residence Aaron White as Bassanio; and guest actor and associate ensemble member Tom Bryn as Shylock.
Pictured from left are guest actor and associate BTE?member Tom Byrn as Shylock, resident guest actor Aaron White as Bassanio and BTE?member James Goode as Antonio in a scene from “The Merchant of Venice.”
Ensemble members Daniel Roth (Gratiano), Richard Cannady (Lancelot), Cassandra Pisiecko (Portia) and Elizabeth Dowd (Nerissa) are joined by BTE Affiliated Artist Samantha Norton (Venice) and 2013-2014 interns Phillip Czecknes (Lorenzo) and Sophie Schulman (Jessica).
Andrew Hubatsek, who has adapted Shakespeare's classic and directs BTE's production, sets the action in modern day Venice.
The Jewish moneylender hates Antonio because he lends money free to his friends and in the past has derided and insulted Shylock for being a Jew. When Bassario, a Venetian of noble rank hoping to wed the heiress Portia, seeks to borrow 3,000 ducats, a fateful contract is sealed which provides that if repayment is not made by Antonio (who guaranteed the loan), Shylock is owed a pound of Antonio's flesh.
BTE's adaptation "pushes a lot of buttons," Goode said. "We've looked at 'The Merchant of Venice' for some time now but decided this is the season to do it."
The play raises many questions: Can money buy love? Can people buy justice? Can people buy people? And is revenge ever justified?
Although Antonio is the titular character, many remember "The Merchant of Venice" from the villainous moneylender. Tom Bryn claims that the character of Shylock is open to many interpretations.
"Where an actor chooses to go on this character, which is tied with the themes of prejudice and greed, is really daunting , especially now with money and minority rights so prevalent in our society and culture," Bryn said.
"The Merchant of Venice" is presented as part of Project Discovery, which provides free and reduced price admission for high school students in surrounding area. Student matinees will be held on Oct. 15, 16 and 17.
A study guide is available online for students and audience members to familiarize themselves with Shakespeare and "The Merchant of Venice." Though classified as a comedy, sharing some aspects with the Bard's other romantic comedies, "The Merchant of Venice" is most remembered for its dramatic scenes, including the famous "Hath not a Jew eyes?" speech. And also notable is Portia's speech on "the quality of mercy" as well as the axiom "All that glitters in not gold."
Although "The Merchant of Venice" may not turn out to be box-office gold, it deserves to put plenty of coins in BTE's coffers.
This production, putting a different entertaining spin on the Bard's tale, is a fitting opener for Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble's 36th "Exciting Season of Romance, Mystery, Laughter, Suspense, Nostalgia ... and You!"
For more information, visit the box office between 2 and 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, call 570-784-8181 or 1-800-282-0283 or visit www.bte.org.