The Merchant of Venice is a tough play for the audience member who likes to take sides. Theres Antonio, a friend indeed to spendthrift nobleman Bassonio, who needs a quick payday loan so he can go a-courting. Opposing them is Shylock, a Jewish moneylender who agrees to make the loan to Antonion(on Bassonios behalf), with the proviso that a default results in Antonio losing one pound of flesh from a bodily location chosen by Shylock. But is Antonio that nice a man? He's spat upon Shylock simply for being a Jew. Is Shylock that evil a man? True, he wants revenge, but c'mon — he's a victim of religious persecution. Matters become ever more complex, especially for the modern audience. Antonio is saved by trickery (and a lawyer who hasn't passed the bar, incidentally), Shylock is thwarted by the courts, he loses half his wealth, and he's forced to convert to Christianity. An American's love of the underdog and sense of fairness are both sorely put to the test by Shakespeare's script. As old as the play is, and as much as it is an artifact of its time, Merchant gives the modern audience so much to discuss, and argue, and shout about that it's the theatrical gift that keeps on giving. St. Louis Shakespeare celebrates 25 years of bringing you theater that's worth debating on the ride home with its season-opening production of The Merchant of Venice at the Grandel Theatre (3610 Grandel Square; 314-361-5664 or www.stlshakespeare.org). Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (July 17 through 26), with a 7:30 p.m. show on Thursday, July 23. Tickets are $15 to $25.
Fridays-Sundays; Thu., July 23. Starts: July 17. Continues through July 26, 2009