Press Release | The Merchant of Venice begins previews Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino at the helm

July 30, 2013… Issues of intolerance and the vengeance it provokes lie at the heart of Shakespeare’s most controversial play, The Merchant of Venice, which begins previews Tuesday, July 30, at the Festival Theatre.

Directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino, who has already had tremendous success with this season’s sold-out run of Mary Stuart, this production will be set in Italy in the 1930s.

“My own parents were children in Italy when the National Fascist Party introduced its anti-Semitic race laws in 1938,” says Mr. Cimolino. “The rise of Fascism and Nazism in that relatively recent era was fuelled by the very same thinking that Shakespeare probes in The Merchant of Venice: attitudes toward ‘otherness’ that range from genteel disdain to racist loathing. And those same attitudes underlie so many of the terrible conflicts that bedevil our world today. This play challenges us to search our own consciences and ask ourselves how far we have really progressed in the centuries since it was written.”

Having invested heavily in an overseas trading venture, Antonio, a Venetian merchant, cannot immediately oblige his friend Bassanio when the latter asks for a loan to finance his wooing of Portia, an heiress who lives in Belmont. Antonio therefore in turn seeks to borrow the necessary funds from Shylock, a Jewish moneylender whom he has always treated with the utmost contempt. Shylock grants him the loan – on condition that, in the event of default, he must forfeit a pound of his flesh. Antonio learns a hard lesson in loyalty when the revenge-seeking Shylock comes to collect and he is unable to pay.

Mr. Cimolino has planned the 2013 season around a cluster of themes, with several of the plays examining how we reach across our differences to find our common humanity with people we have identified as the “other.” In this case, the story of a despised outsider who seeks horrific vengeance for the abuse to which he has been subjected makes The Merchant of Venice a particularly apt choice within this season’s playbill.

“It seems to me that Shakespeare is really trying to understand how we make some people the ‘other,’ ” says Mr. Cimolino. “The Merchant of Venice doesn’t just warn us against judging books by their covers; it even goes so far as to suggest an inverse relationship between essential worth and surface appeal. From caskets to complexions, appearances ‘entrap the wisest.’ Throughout the play, people are judged by the colour of their skin, by their nationality and, of course, by their religion. As one might expect, such discrimination causes great pain; it also breeds a desire for revenge.”

The cast features Tom McCamus as Antonio, Scott Wentworth as Shylock, Tyrell Crews as Bassanio, Sara Farb as Jessica, Michelle Giroux as Portia, Jonathan Goad as Gratiano, Ron Pederson as Launcelot Gobbo, Tyrone Savage as Lorenzo and Sophia Walker as Nerissa.

The artistic team includes Set Designer Douglas Paraschuk, Costume Designer Charlotte Dean, Lighting Designer Robert Thomson, Composer Keith Thomas, Sound Designer Todd Charlton and Fight Director John Stead. 

The Merchant of Venice Forum Highlights

The Forum, the new festival within the Festival, is a series of activities and events designed to make a visit to Stratford an immersive, all-encompassing cultural experience. Through debates, talks, concerts, comedy nights, hands-on workshops and more, The Forum offers theatregoers more ways to discover and examine the themes running through this season’s productions.

The Merchant of Venice will be explored through several Forum events, including: Shylock Appeals, in which two prominent lawyers argue Shylock’s sentence in front of a panel of judges including Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada; Geraint Wyn Davies Presents… “Wordplay”: Shylock, in which Geraint Wyn Davies and members of the company present Shylock, a play by Arnold Wesker that tells the story of The Merchant of Venice from Shylock’s point of view; and Who Chooseth Me, in which practising psychoanalyst Mavis Himes speaks with Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino about the insights psychoanalysis can bring to The Merchant of Venice.

Support for the inaugural season of The Forum is generously provided by Kelly and Michael Meighen and the Province of Ontario, in partnership with the University of Waterloo, with media sponsorship provided by The Walrus. Support for the Speakers Series is generously provided in memory of Dr. Philip Hayman.

The Merchant of Venice officially opens on August 15 and runs until October 18. For tickets, contact the box office at 1.800.567.1600 or visit stratfordfestival.ca.

The Merchant of Venice is sponsored by Scotiabank. Production support is generously provided by Jane Petersen-Burfield & family, Barbara & John Schubert and Catherine & David Wilkes.

The Festival’s new Toronto bus service Stratford Direct is now available twice daily on performance days for only $20 return. Reservations can be made through the box office.

Support for Stratford Direct is generously provided by The Peter Cundill Foundation.

The Stratford Festival’s 2013 season runs until October 20, featuring Romeo and JulietFiddler on the RoofThe Three MusketeersThe Merchant of VeniceTommyBlithe SpiritOthelloMeasure for MeasureMary StuartWaiting for Godot and two new Canadian plays, Taking Shakespeare and The Thrill, along with more than 150 Forum events.

Cast (in alphabetical order)

Duke of Venice………………………………..         Wayne Best
Prince of Morocco…………………………….         Michael Blake
Waiter…………………………………………         Skye Brandon
Leonardo………………………………………         Daniel Briere
Stephanie………………………………………        Lally Cadeau
Priest……………………………………………        Shane Carty
Bassanio……………………………………….         Tyrell Crews
Portia’s train……………………………………         Nehassaiu deGannes
Old Gobbo……………………………………..        Victor Ertmanis
Jessica………………………………………….        Sara Farb
Portia…………………………………………..         Michelle Giroux
Gratiano………………………………………..        Jonathan Goad
Tubal……………………………………………        Robert King
Morocco’s train………………………………..         Andrew Lawrie

Understudy……………………………………..       Roy Lewis
Antonio………………………………………..         Tom McCamus
Launcelot Gobbo………………………………        Ron Pederson
Salerio………………………………………….        Anand Rajaram
Portia’s train……………………………………        Kaitlyn Riordan
Bassanio’s train…………………………………        Andrew Robinson
Portia’s train……………………………………        Sabryn Rock
Lorenzo…………………………………………        Tyrone Savage
Solanio…………………………………………        Steven Sutcliffe
Christian Mum…………………………………        Wendy Thatcher
Nerissa…………………………………………        Sophia Walker
Shylock…………………………………………       Scott Wentworth
Prince of Arragon………………………………       Antoine Yared
Children…………………………………………       Maddox Keller, Gabriel Long, Brent McCready-Branch

Artistic Credits

Director…………………………………………       Antoni Cimolino
Set Designer…………………………………….       Douglas Paraschuk
Costume Designer………………………………       Charlotte Dean
Lighting Designer………………………………       Robert Thomson
Composer……………………………………….       Keith Thomas
Sound Designer…………………………………      Todd Charlton
Fight Director……………………………………      John Stead
Producer…………………………………………      David Auster
Casting Director…………………………………      Beth Russell
Creative Planning Director………………………     Jason Miller
Assistant Director………………………………..     Mitchell Cushman
Assistant Set Designer……………………………     Brandon Kleiman
Assistant Costume Designer……………………..     Jennifer Goodman
Assistant Lighting Designer………………………    Sean Poole
Fight Captain…………………………………….     Wayne Best
Stage Manager………………………………….       Bona Duncan
Assistant Stage Managers………………………       Bruno Gonsalves, Crystal Skinner, Cynthia Toushan
Production Assistant……………………………       Linsey Callaghan
Production Stage Manager………………………      Margaret Palmer
Technical Director………………………………       Jeff Scollon

-30-

PHOTOGRAPHY:

Promotional photos for The Merchant of Venice:
http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/imagegallery/imagegallery.aspx?id=20297

Headshots:
http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/imagegallery/imagegallery.aspx?id=14315

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