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Review: The Merchant of Venice (First Folio Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: The Merchant of Venice (First Folio Theatre)   
The Merchant of Venice 

Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Alison C. Vesely
at Mayslake Peabody Estate, Oakbrook (map)
thru Aug 19  |  tickets: $26-$37   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
   Read entire review



First Folio illuminates vicious biases in Shakespeare’s most controversial play 


Review: The Merchant of Venice (First Folio Theatre)


First Folio Theatre presents


The Merchant of Venice

Review by K.D. Hopkins

I first read The Merchant of Venice back in Catholic high school. It was definitely a more innocent time but also an ignorant time. I did not realize the anti-Semitic tone of this play until I read it again in college, and was outraged. As I watched the First Folio Theatre production, I was somewhat able to put things into context, but then there is still anti-Semitism just as there is homophobia, and racism. It begs the question, what is the artistic value of The Merchant of Venice being produced in modern times?  Could it be to shine a light on the fact that such biases still exist, just not so blatantly?

Review: The Merchant of Venice (First Folio Theatre)
First Folio gives an excellent production. Rather than playing down the vicious attacks on Shylock’s faith and ethnicity, the company illuminates the ignorance and forced supremacy of the Christian class. In my opinion, Shylock is not the villain but the tragic victim. That has been the timbre of the portrayals of Shylock since the 19th century. However, when it was written, England had only recently allowed Jews back into the country having once expelled them and only because they were vital to the trades of importing and other similar endeavors. They were forced to wear red hats- eerily prescient of the yellow stars labeled ‘Juden’ before WWII.

Michael Goldberg does a stellar job of portraying Shylock. He is a man hated for being successful and following the rules set before him while keeping his faith. The pain of losing his daughter Jessica to a Christian and the ultimate insult of being forced to convert is as epic as King Lear. Goldberg gives a subtle performance that keeps the full measure of dignity due to a Christian character. The societal pressure on Shylock is displayed in the forms of spitting, and name-calling.

Cassidy Stirtz, as Shylock’s daughter Jessica, gives the character a more rebellious note than I have seen previously. It is of note that despite her conversion to marry the handsome Lorenzo (Luke Daigle) she is treated lower than the other female characters. I suppose it’s Shakespeare’s version of ‘jungle fever’.

Michael Joseph Mitchell plays the eponymous merchant Anthonio. Mitchell does a fine job as a noble man with noble motives. He and Kevin McKillip, as Bassanio, have a wonderful chemistry as friends who would go to the end of the world for each other. (Anthonio and Bassanio share what would be called a bromance in modern vernacular.)

Melanie Keller is wonderful as Portia and, in disguise, as the doctor of law. The rhythm of Shakespearean language can often come off as strident for his female roles, but Keller plays the role as smart and savvy, even with the desperate longing for Bassanio that lies in the heart of Portia. Hayley L. Rice, as Portia’s lady-in-waiting Nerissa, is a definite standout. Rice has good comic chops and a natural stage presence.

Other commendable players are Lane Flores as the Prince of Arragon and Nate Santana as Lancelot Gobbo. Ruelas does an exaggerated Castillian accent that is just priceless. The Prince is foppish and perfect comic foil for the tension of the choice he has to make in selecting the right container to marry Portia. Santana gives much an evenly measured performance as Lancelot, where it could have easily gone totally slapstick. Shakespeare’s fool characters can easily go over the top, but Santana plays the antics just right.

I recommend this play in the same way that I recommend “Gone With The Wind” as a brilliant movie. It is a product of a time in history where the same failings of humanity continue to exist in modern times. The Peabody Mansion grounds are a lush and gorgeous setting for theater alfresco. Bring serious insect repellant, and some nibbles, for a lovely evening of Shakespeare.


Rating: ★★★



The Merchant of Venice continues through August 19th at Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oakbrook, IL (map), with performances Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 8:15pm.  Gates to the estate open at 6:15pm, so you can arrive early and enjoy a leisurely picnic.  Lawn seating is unlimited, so bring your own chair or blanket. Tickets are $26-$37, and are available by phone (630-986-8067) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at  (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)

Review: The Merchant of Venice (First Folio Theatre)

Photos by David Rice




Michael Joseph Mitchell* (Anthonio); Gary F. Barth (Salario); Michael Mercier (Solanio); Kevin McKillip*^ (Bassanio); Luke Daigle (Lorenzo); Kris Reilly (Gratiano); Melanie Keller*^ (Portia); Hayley L. Rice^ (Nerissa); Whitney Morse (Lady in Waiting, others); Michael Goldberg*^ (Shylock); Nate Santana (Lancelot Gobbo); Robbie Bersano (Leonardo, Stephano, others); Cassidy Shea Stirtz (Jessica); Lane Flores (Prince of Arragon, others); René Ruelas (Tubal, Duke of Venice); Stephan Collins-Stepney (Jailer, others); Batuhan Ozturk (Balthasar, others); Michael Holding, Emma Thatcher (ensemble)

behind the scenes

Alison C. Vesely (director, artistic director); Angela Weber Miller^ (set); Michael McNamara^ (lighting); Christopher Kriz^ (sound); Rachel Lambert (costumes); Kayla Straub (props); Stanton Davis (vocal coach); Kate Danziger (stage manager); David Rice (executive director, photos)

* denotes Actors Equity member
^ denotes First Folio artistic associate

Review: The Merchant of Venice (First Folio Theatre)


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