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.