The Merchant of Venice

By William Shakespeare

Performances at Paraclete House at the Community of Jesus
Rock Harbor, Orleans, MA

Friday, December 4 – 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 5 – 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 6 – 3:00 p.m., followed by a discussion 

Friday, December 11 – 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 12 – 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 13 – 3:00 p.m., followed by discussion

On Sunday, December 6 and 13, there is also a luncheon available at 1:00 p.m., for an additional cost.

Reserve tickets 

Learn more about the play here!


Antonio, a royal merchant in Venice, finds himself sad and weary, in spite of his great fortune and his many friends. Among the party of young and lively bachelors that surround him is Bassanio, who asks Antonio to lend him 3,000 ducats so that he may travel to Belmont and woo the rich and beautiful lady, Portia. Antonio gladly agrees, but is short on cash as all his ships are out at sea, and conscripts Bassanio to find him a lender.

Portia, the lady heiress of Belmont, is also weary, plagued as she is by suitors who come from the world over to win her hand (and her considerable fortune), according to a contest laid out by her father in his will. Portia must marry the man who from a choice of three caskets, made of gold, silver and lead, correctly chooses the casket containing her portrait.

In search of a source for his loan Bassanio brings Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, to Antonio. Their history is rife with hatred: Antonio lends without interest, costing Shylock clients and income, and Antonio has made his revulsion to Shylock clear with verbal and physical insults. Nonetheless Shylock agrees to the loan, and in lieu of interest, convinces Antonio to forfeit a pound of his own flesh if he is unable to make good on his repayment of the 3,000 ducats. Bassanio takes the money and his friend Gratiano and leaves for Belmont. Meanwhile Shylock’s daughter Jessica expresses her great unhappiness and shame in her father’s house, and reveals her plan to steal her father’s money and elope with another Venetian bachelor (and a Christian), Lorenzo.

Back in Belmont the Prince of Morocco and the Prince of Arragon both choose the incorrect caskets, losing their chances of Portia and her fortune, and completely foregoing their option to marry in the future. In Venice the news is swirling: Shylock learns of his daughter’s betrayal, and of a rumor that Antonio’s ships have been lost at sea. Ignorant of this Bassanio sweeps into Portia’s house, wins her heart, and selects the correct casket, thereby winning her hand and her fortune as well. At the same time his friend Gratiano falls in love with Portia’s lady in waiting, Nerissa, and they also make plans to marry. Their happiness is suspended with the news of Antonio’s demise, his inability to pay the debt, and Shylock’s demand for his pound of flesh. Portia sends Bassanio back to Venice with enough money to pay the debt several times over.

Shylock has Antonio arrested for his failure to pay. Portia and Nerissa secretly leave Belmont for Venice too, disguising themselves as men. In Venice, Antonio’s trial is underway, with the Duke of Venice presiding. Upon Shylock’s refusal to accept Bassanio’s offer to repay the loan, the Duke announces that he has called for legal reinforcement from Doctor Bellario in Padua. Nerissa (disguised as a clerk) appears with a letter from Bellario, introducing “Balthazar,” the brilliant legal student he has sent to pass judgment. “Balthazar” (Portia, also disguised) arrives, reads the contract, attempts unsuccessfully to reason with Shylock, and determines that Shylock is indeed entitled to his pound of flesh. Shylock is thrilled until Portia quickly points out that the contract includes no blood; therefore Shylock must exact the flesh without shedding a single drop, or he will be arrested for it. Shylock attempts to recant and take the money, but Portia brings up another sticking point: as a Jew, and therefore an alien, Shylock has made an attempt on the life of a Venetian citizen, and has thereby rendered his own life forfeit. The Duke shows mercy, and allows Antonio to pass the final sentence: Shylock may keep half his wealth, but he must give the other half to Lorenzo and Jessica (with the promise of leaving it all to them upon his death), and he must become a Christian.

Not recognizing his wife, Bassanio offers “Balthazar” a tribute of his thanks for saving Antonio’s life. Portia takes the opportunity to ask for his ring – the ring she had given him upon their marriage, with the promise that he should never let it part from his finger. Reluctantly, he hands it over, as Gratiano does his to Nerissa (whom he also does not recognize). The women race back to Belmont arriving just before their husbands return. Portia welcomes back Bassanio, Gratiano and Antonio, but the news quickly surfaces that both new husbands have given away their rings. The two wives torture them with accusations of infidelity. Finally Portia reveals that it was her and Nerissa all along in the courtroom, that three of Antonio’s ships are safe and sound, and that Lorenzo and Jessica will receive a fat inheritance from Shylock. The celebration begins.

Cast & Staff

Cast & Staff


(in order of their appearance)

Antonio Christopher Kanaga
Salerio Kate Shannon
Solanio Peter McKendree
Bassanio Ryan Winkles
Lorenzo Peter Haig
Gratiano, Aragon Kyle Norman
Portia Rachel McKendree
Nerissa Stephanie Haig
Shylock Sr. Danielle Dwyer
Launcelot, Tubal, Morrocco, Duke Brad Lussier
Jessica Ellen Ortolani


Sr. Danielle Dwyer

Technical Director
Chris Kanaga

News & Reviews

News & Reviews

“The Merchant of Venice,” Elements Theatre Company, Orleans: While Shakespeare’s play itself is problematic, this production was impeccably acted and beautifully designed. It was clear the company had dug deeply into all aspects of this play and era.  —Cape Cod Times “Top Favorites” for 2015 Year

A “them against us” mentality seems to be sweeping the country. All you have to do is listen to the news. Depending on your vantage point, the “other” might be perceived as the police in minority communities, Muslims in Western countries, illegal immigrants at our borders and in our cities.
There is all too much demonization taking place and too few efforts at understanding. ​This past week in Chicago, a theater troupe from the ecumenical Community of Jesus in Orleans, Mass., has been . . . [READ MORE]  —America Magazine

Encountering the Other in Shakespeare

By Judith Valente, America Magazine

A “them against us” mentality seems to be sweeping the country. All you have to do is listen to the news. Depending on your vantage point, the “other” might be perceived as the police in minority communities, Muslims in Western countries, illegal immigrants at our borders and in our cities.

There is all too much demonization taking place and too few efforts at understanding. ​This past week in Chicago, a theater troupe from the ecumenical Community of Jesus in Orleans, Mass., has been traveling to various venues offering performances, workshops and panel discussions called “A Pound of Flesh: Exploring Qualities of Mercy When Encountering the Other.” The group uses Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice as a springboard for that exploration. ​Sister Danielle Dwyer, director of the community’s Elements Theatre Company, calls The Merchant of Venice “an uncomfortable, confrontational play.

There is no denying the hate, the prejudice, the blatant superiority.” Shakespeare’s examination of the “social lepers” of his Elizabethan society—and what it means to belong and to be human—is just as relevant today as it was in his day.

“It seems we as people have an inherent need to have ‘an other,’” Dwyer says. “At times I’ve been the other, and at times I’ve created the other.” ​Dwyer tries to steer the discussion away from the literary elements of the play—for example, was Shakespeare an anti-Semite and what was his aim in writing this play?

Instead, Dwyer encourages audiences to focus on the play’s broader themes and applications. “The larger issue with this work is what happens to ‘the other’ when that person is not protected.” ​At the various venues where it has been presented, the play sparked discussion about the potential hardships of a religiously-mixed marriage; the effects of an unequal economic system; and the use of legal maneuvering to undergird what is patently immoral. Sound familiar to our own time?

Dwyer’s troupe first performed the play or excerpts from it at various venues in New York, including the New School and St. Malachy Church. This week, the group brought the program to Chicago Theological Seminary, Kam Isaiah Israel Synagogue and the Mayer Kaplan Jewish Community Center in Skokie. On Monday, the show will be performed for high school and college students at Dominican University in River Forest.

Each performance is followed by a panel discussion that, at the various venues, has brought together actors, priests, rabbis, English professors, religion writers and diplomats. The Community of Jesus itself is an interesting model of tolerance. It consists of lay members and vowed religious as well as people from a variety of faith traditions. Members of the community aim to live the ancient monastic Rule of St. Benedict in a contemporary setting.

For years, through its Arts In Conversation series, the community has used art as a starting point for theological explorations. The Elements Theatre troupe consists of 15 actors, all volunteers, and some classically trained. ​The audience response to “Encountering the Other” hasn’t always been friendly.

A question Dwyer gets frequently is: why are you doing such a disturbing, uncomfortable play?

She responds, “This story is part of what we are and who we are. This story is a cautionary tale of what happens when human nature and the desire for revenge is released.”

I commend the Community of Jesus and its theater group for seeking to be agents of change through art. “Encountering the Other” challenges us to hold a mirror to ourselves and peer into our own prejudices and behavior. By doing so, we are stirred to make new choices, hopefully ones that lean toward mercy.

Powerful 'Merchant of Venice' in Orleans

By Douglas Karlson, Cape Codder

The attention to detail characteristic of productions at the Community of Jesus begins even before you enter the theater grounds at Rock Harbor, as friendly volunteers carefully direct cars via an elaborate arrangement of blinking lights and flashlights. It’s a reminder that great preparation goes into the plays performed by the Elements Theatre Company.

That attention to detail is evident throughout the current production of “The Merchant of Venice,” directed by Sr. Danielle Dwyer, and applies to costumes, lighting, set design, stage management, and, oh yes… very strong acting all around.

This tale of hatred and revenge, power and romance has a large cast that delivers finely honed performances. The reviewer faces a dilemma of Shakespearean proportions to single out any one actor’s performance without detracting from the others.

Having said that, Dwyer, as Shylock, brings the character to life convincingly, and her performance sparkles with wit and originality. The drama reaches a crescendo in Antonio’s trial, where one almost expects Shylock to literally collect his pound of flesh.

Rachel McKendree, as Portia, is particularly affecting as she delivers a deft mix of serious courtroom drama and romantic comedy. She has a strong stage presence and her performance is nuanced and delightful.

Ryan Winkles provides the energy essential for the role of Bassanio, who is the driving force in the play. He is well cast and delivers a pitch-perfect performance. He is well supported with polished portrayals by Kate Shannon as Salerio, Peter McKendree as Solanio, and Peter Haig as Lorenzo.

Christopher Kanaga, as Antonio, in many ways anchors the production with a powerful presence — as his character is tested to the extreme, and Brad Lussier does quadruple duty, and is highly entertaining, as the very funny Launcelot Gobbo and the Prince of Morocco.

Ellen Ortolani is charming and convincing as Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, and Stephanie Haig, as Nerissa, Portia’s lady in waiting, delivers a fine performance and is very amusing in her final comic scene, as is Kyle Norman, who plays her love interest, Gratiano.

These are the main characters, but the entire cast, too numerous to mention all, makes this play highly professional and entertaining.

Kudos to Technical Director Chris Kanaga. The set exceeds expectations and really meets Broadway standards (a special carpet depicting 16th century Venice covers the stage), and lighting design and staging are superior.

The Elements Theatre Company has delivered a first-rate production of this Shakespeare classic. My only criticism is that it’s a short run.

Element's 'Merchant' seeks to enlighten audience

By Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll, Cape Cod Times

ORLEANS – Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” doesn’t seem an obvious choice for staging at this holiday time of year until you read a program note for the Elements Theatre Company production by Sister Danielle Dwyer, the director.

She points out that this show straddles both the season of Hanukkah and the Christian season of Advent, and she links the fact that both are celebrations of light to Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote that only light can drive out darkness. Dwyer connects the conflicts in the play between men of two religions, here Jewish and Christian, to the disagreements and danger so present in the world today. She suggests that change could begin if each person looks harder at his/her motivations and choices.

“We offer this play, and these possibilities, as prayers for peace in our world,” she says. Or, as the Bible states in the Nativity story, “on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”

It’s a powerful message, with powerful intentions. Elements honors that by creating a “Merchant of Venice” that is impeccably acted – including by Dwyer in a painted-on beard as male Jewish moneylender Shylock – and beautifully designed. It’s clear that the company has dug deeply into all aspects of this play and era, beginning with painted panels in the lobby to explain the history of the unusual, water-surrounded city that is Venice. The 16th-century set – credited to Hans and Charity Spatzeck-Olsen and Sister Irene Psathas – is full of graceful arches and rich colors, and is built around a floor covered with an ancient map of Venice.

Tone is always an issue with this play, though, and the hero characters’ casual and then heated anti-Semitism can be troubling for modern audiences of what is considered a Shakespeare comedy. Scenes of fun bookend a harrowing courtroom conflict in which Shylock is part villain, part victim, and while both moods are superbly played, the script’s quick juxtaposition between tragedy and light comedy is an uneasy mix.

The story has three romances and much genial male friendship. Bassanio, whom Ryan Winkles portrays as passionate and full of life, wants to woo heiress Portia, but needs a loan from merchant friend Antonio (Christopher Kanaga, in a complex and touching performance). Antonio wants to help by getting a loan from Shylock and jokingly agrees that Antonio will forfeit a pound of flesh (thus killing him) if he fails to repay.

There is already mutual dislike between the two, but Dwyer’s disagreeable Shylock becomes vengeful and determined when his unhappy daughter (Ellen Ortolani) steals money and elopes with her Christian lover (Peter Haig). Bassanio, after a charming scene of winning Portia’s hand and love, rushes back to Venice when Antonio’s ships are lost and Shylock demands to cut that pound of flesh. Portia, smart and strong in a terrific performance by Rachel McKendree, follows disguised as a man who can interpret the law, tries to get the hate-filled Shylock to show mercy, and when he refuses, turns the tables on him.

Motivations and choices are indeed worth considering in a story made more complex by the religious considerations. To hear characters we come to like and respect easily and venomously spit out the name “Jew” to address Shylock is jarring, as is them turning to playful marital subterfuge so soon after his downfall.

To help connect the issues the show raises about prejudice, revenge, etc., to the troubles in today’s world, Elements has put together “Pound of Flesh” panel discussions after each Sunday matinee. Experts on religion, theater, human rights and education will talk in a series designed, according to the group’s website, to “create public dialogue on the power of the arts to humanize our culture.”

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.

A Striking ‘Merchant Of Venice’ From Elements Theatre Co.

By Ellen Petry Whalen, The Cape Cod Chronicle

Even though Shakespeare never goes out of style, in times of uncertainty the Bard’s powerful words can ring more true. This is definitely the case today with the world’s many dark and tenuous situations, and Elements Theatre Company’s commendable “The Merchant of Venice” is trying to shed some much needed light on them.

Upon first examination, the controversial “Merchant of Venice” might seem like an odd choice for the holidays, since anti-Semitism, along with hatred and love, are at its core. Drawing upon similarities more than differences, director Danielle Dwyer explains the show’s two-week run is set directly in between the celebratory season of lights for both Jews and Christians.

The two-and-a-quarter-hour tragicomedy begins with the spendthrift and debt-ridden Bassanio (Ryan Winkles) asking his good friend, the royal merchant Antonio (Christopher Kanaga), for money to woo his love, Lady Portia (Rachel McKendree). Having his monies currently tied up in a number of seafaring ventures, Antonio obligingly tells his young, love-crazed friend to find him a lender to secure a loan. The Jewish moneylender Shylock (Danielle Dwyer) has had a long sordid history with the anti-Semitic Antonio, and openly showing his disdain, Antonio surprisingly spits on Shylock. Unexpectedly, Shylock agrees to a loan without interest, but if it isn’t repaid in three months, Antonio must freely give a pound of his flesh.

The wealthy Lady Portia is not permitted to choose her husband, as her now-deceased father made a contest of her hand, and suitors from around the world have been trying to win it. Each of their marital fates is determined after choosing between three small “caskets” of gold, silver, and lead. With some cunning, Bassanio chooses well, and he and Portia wed, along with her maiden, Nerissa (Stephanie Haig) and Bassanio’s friend, Gratiano (Kyle Norman).

Meanwhile, Shylock’s ungrateful daughter, Jessica (Ellen Ortolani), elopes with Lorenzo (Peter Haig), robbing her father of his fortune and converting to Christianity. In a miserable state, it looks like Shylock’s only hope is revenge. When Antonio’s note comes due and he isunable to pay, Shylock refuses to show mercy, literally demanding his revengeful pound of flesh, immortalized in the famous lines, “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”

Dwyer is unyielding and unflinching as the tragic Shylock, refusing to give the Christians any added pleasure with their blatant malice. Kanaga is a resigned Antonio, accepting his fate with dignity and forgiveness. As Bassanio, Winkles has a playful yet noble approach, loyal to his friend until the end, while McKendree presents a Portia who revels in her intelligence and ability to outwit her husband.

Brad Lussier steals the show, playing the fool in manyroles, helping to lighten the cautionary tale. On Saturday, the audience loved his extra flourishes as the insolent servant Launcelot and the eccentric Prince of Morocco.

As usual, Elements’ set is striking, with its meticulous reincarnation of late 1500s Venice’s colorful, stucco-wall lined villas and an intricate wrought iron fence leading to the Jewish ghetto. The set’s foundation is a large rug which runs the length of the stage and is strikingly covered with an ancient map of Venice. Elements’ costumes once again delight the senses with original and handmade designs using opulent fabrics like silks, taffeta, and velvets, with many gold and gem adornments.

Next year marks 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, and Elements has begun celebrating a little early with their opulent “Merchant of Venice.” On Sunday they have an optional pre-matinee luncheon followed by a “thoughtprovoking” panel of experts discussing the “other” in our societies. On Friday and Saturday night, the play is followed by a complimentary wine and cheese reception in their art gallery, beautifully displaying intricate costumes from many past productions.

“The Merchant of Venice” is another highly polished production from the intimate Elements Theatre Company, which, located in The Community of Jesus, is still one of the best kept theatrical secrets on the Cape, along with the fact that students can attend at no charge.

From the Director

From the Director

Dear Friends,

In this time of turmoil, when peace and safety are at odds with the events of a day, we look at this play in a new light.

This run of The Merchant of Venice straddles both the Jewish season of Hanukkah and the Christian season of Advent – both celebrations of light.  Both seasons recall saving moments in history that gave to a people relief and peace from the tensions and dangers of the world in which they lived.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Martin Luther King, Jr.

In a play that does not shy away from hatred and love, that illuminates the motivations and choices that shape the lives of those characters making them, and thrusts them into places and predicaments they never thought they’d be, we see anew, that what motivates the heart is the most important thing.

These motivations play out most directly in the relationship between Shylock and Antonio – a “merry” bond is struck between them. In the text it reads as a joke when proposed by Shylock and, in hubris, Antonio accepts it, ignoring the protests of his friend, Bassanio.  As the play progresses, situations change dramatically and dangerously and the bond that seemed to be made in jest, grows fangs and drives them both to the edge of murder.  Who can know what lies in the heart of a man?

Once again Shakespeare offers us a story that can be seen and taken as a reflection back, both on us as individuals, and of the world; a cautionary tale.  This story shines truth on the human relationships that live in small communities, in larger cities, and in even larger countries that bridge continents.  If we can start in ourselves, looking at what we choose, our motivations, then this recognition has the ability to move from benign acceptance to an active agent for change.  Please join us as we offer this play, and these possibilities, as prayers for peace in our world.

Blessings in these Seasons of Light,
Sr. Danielle Dwyer

Sr. Danielle Dwyer

See and Hear

See and Hear