WHAT “The Merchant of Venice”
WHERE Rose Hall, Broadway at West 60th Street, through Sunday, July 24
INFO $85-$150; 212-721-6500; lincolncenterfestival.org
BOTTOM LINE Jonathan Pryce and his daughter, Phoebe, are terrific in this stylistically jarring production.
Live sightings of Jonathan Pryce — part of today’s zeitgeist buzz as the High Sparrow in “Game of Thrones” — are rare in New York, where the two-time Tony winner has not appeared on Broadway in more than 10 years. His complex, blazingly internalized Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice,” part of the Lincoln Center Festival through Sunday, July 24, is a reminder of how much we’ve been missing.
Director Jonathan Munby’s handsome, modest, stylistically jarring production for Shakespeare’s Globe is a mixed treasure. It is obnoxious in its audience-participation clowning, routine in too many major parts, but harrowing in its violent juxtaposition of the merry Venetian gentiles and their unspeakably casual cruelty to the Jews.
The play, of course, is arguably the most disturbing of Shakespeare’s so-called comedies, a contradiction more thrillingly honored by the gripping unpleasantness and the ripping entertainment value of director Daniel Sullivan’s production with Al Pacino in 2010.
Here, Munby underlines the anti-Semitic horror in a reveler’s preface and adds a wrenching but unnecessary coda with Shylock being forcibly baptized. He and his daughter, Jessica — played with comparably subtle, long-boned empathy by Pryce’s gifted daughter, Phoebe Pryce — lapse into Yiddish together, while Hebrew chanting periodically mingles with Renaissance music.
Antonio does not subtly suggest a love for Bassanio, but actually tries to kiss him. To everyone’s credit, this is not a speechifying production, though Rachel Pickup, as an oddly unsympathetic Portia, could have used some in the trial scene. Stranger still, Munby ignores that the play’s gender oppression was almost as stifling as what happened to Shylock.