Theatre Review: Bard On The Beach – The Merchant Of Venice

This past weekend I was fortunate enough to take in a second performance of Bard on the Beach, this time watching another one of Shakespeare’s comedies, The Merchant of Venice, directed by Rachel Ditor. This particular play is running from June 15 to September 23 on the BMO Main Stage at Bard on the Beach in Vanier Park. If there was ever a year to take the leap and see a Shakespeare production, this would be the year. Both comedies playing on the Main Stage are unbelievably hysterical, and captivating for all audiences, young or old (or somewhere in between).

I will openly admit that I have fallen in love with Bard on the Beach and Shakepeare over the last few years, and it is all due to the incredible actors, designers and volunteers that come together each summer to put on a spectacular performance and experience. A lot of the actors in The Merchant of Venice carried over from the other play being acted out on the same stage, As You Like It. After seeing both of these brilliant renditions of Shakespeare’s work, I would claim As You Like It as the funnier of the two. Alasdair disagrees with me, but I think it’s just to be difficult! On the night we took in the performance I was extremely pleased to see young people and students, on what appeared to be large group outings, occupied the majority of the seats. It was inspiring to see young minds taking to the likes of Shakespeare and enjoying it, laughing out loud and giggling to their hearts content.

L to R: Salanio (David Marr), Salarino (Shawn Macdonald), Lorenzo (Sebastian Kroon) and Gratiano (Ryan Beil) help Jessica escape with Shylock’s ducats in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Bard on the Beach 2011

The actors in The Merchant of Venice were once again spectacular, with several standout moments from numerous members of the ensemble. I’ll start first with one of the lead male characters, Bassanio, friend to the merchant of Venice and Portia’s suitor, played by Charlie Gallant (pictured right in the header photo). First off, this man is gorgeous and his open-shirt and shirtless scenes definitely made it easier to fall for the likeability of his character. He truly encapsulated the demeanor of a man desperate to save his friend from his plaguing debts, caused by his own hand. I’ll admit, his smile and ability to hold a tune definitely helped give him the upper hand. I was truly mesmerized by Gallant’s talents and I hope to see him return in future Bard performances. His presence on stage complimented each of the other actors, and rounded out the excellent performance. For that I grant him the best male of the performance honour.

For the ladies, this was definitely a play for the women. Lindsey Angell (pictured left in the header photo) played the lead female character, Portia, an heiress, exquisitely. I’ll admit, when I first saw Lindsey take to the stage in As You Like It, I didn’t have a lot of confidence in her abilities and considered her a lagging actor, and presumed she was an understudy. I quickly ate my words as she took to the stage in The Merchant of Venice and dominated every scene she was in; I simply couldn’t take my eyes off her! Her poise, elegance and comedic timing were the perfect combination for tackling this character, and she performed it to perfection. I found myself laughing the hardest throughout her scenes, most often due to her execution and reactions. Amazing job Lindsey!

R to L: The Prince of Aragon (John Murphy) and his servant (Kayvon Khoshkam) in THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Bard on the Beach 2011

The standout performance of the night was definitely difficult to pin point, as there were three characters worthy of noting. The two worth honorable mention were Stephana, servant to Portia, played by the brilliant Lois Anderson (my favourite from As You Like It as well), and The Prince of Aragon, potential suitor to Portia, played by John Murphy. I am bursting to describe why he is worthy of this honour, but I feel I will ruin it for everyone who has yet to see this production. Trust me, once you see it you will undoubtedly agree with my opinion. To be frank, for this one character alone I strongly urge you to get out and take in this performance while you still have the chance! John Murphy is truly that sensational! He also tackles a few additional smaller characters within the play; however, this particular role is his crowning glory, in my opinion anyway.
Go see The Merchant of Venice! You won’t regret it!!

For more information on Bard on the Beach, including tickets to The Merchant of Venice and all the other productions happening in Vanier Park this year, check out the Bard’s website: http://www.bardonthebeach.org/
Enjoy!