Elements Theatre Company presents “Merchant of Venice”

By Barbara Clark, Barnstable Patriot

For the past year, Elements Theatre Company in Orleans has been focusing on the words and works of William Shakespeare, a major project looking toward the 400th anniversary of his death, to be commemorated in 2016.

The theatre company continues this journey with words as they perform Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” from Dec. 4 to 13 at Paraclet House at the Community of Jesus in Rock Harbor, Orleans.

The theatre company’s publicity material describes “Merchant” as a “cautionary tale of love and hate, mercy and justice” that explores the nature of “prejudice and tolerance [as well as] questions that challenge our own dark sides of unforgiveness, revenge and lust for power.” Audiences will see “the darker side of Venice” in the encounter and conflict between merchant Antonio and moneylender Shylock, the wealthy and sought-after Portia and her suitor Bassanio.

Sr. Danielle Dwyer, the company’s artistic director, spoke about why the famous play has remained popular over several hundred years despite its controversial elements: “I think the controversy in this play is the very reason it remains so popular and I would add relevant. It is the very nature of prejudice and marginalization that seems to be a part of the human existence since its beginning — ‘My tribe is better than yours’ [or] ‘I will dominate you and you will be subject to me.’”

As for the play’s exploration of whether the qualities of mercy and revenge explored in the play are either “Christian” or “Jewish,” she said, “Shakespeare has laid it our very well for us. There is little difference between these two groups of people, and when the characters are fully inhabited there is little to do but tell their story. In doing this, these glaring issues cannot hide.”

Dwyer, who plays the role of Shylock in the production, said that “motivations of the heart” are central issues for the characters in “Merchant,” noting that the play is underscored by many questions, such as whether Shylock foresaw where his “merry” bond might lead; what is the real nature of Bassanio’s “love” for Portia; and the real motivations for her impersonation and actions at the trial. Dwyer said that these are “delicious and provoking questions to ask and to challenge ourselves with.”

Theatregoers are invited to stay for a panel discussion and back talk with director Dwyer and a panel of guests following the matinee performance on Dec. 6 and 13, with audience comments and questions welcomed.