The Merchant of Venice
The giant image of Al Pacino now looming over Times Square is probably not the most photogenic billboard you’ve ever seen, but his deeply felt and idiosyncratic performance as the Jewish moneylender Shylock is undoubtedly the high selling point of Dan Sullivan’s pitch-perfect production of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.”
But in all fairness, Pacino ought to share that space with Lily Rabe, who plays the young heiress and attorney-in-disguise Portia.
Rabe, daughter of the recently deceased actress Jill Clayburgh, gives an absolutely smashing performance that matches Pacino in ferocity, intelligence and good humor.
Sullivan’s staging, which premiered last summer as a free Shakespeare in the Park production, uses an Edwardian dress code and a minimalist set design consisting of revolving, prison-like black iron gates.
Sullivan also adds a wordless sequence depicting the forced baptism of Shylock, in which he is violently dunked into a pool of water.
Pacino’s Shylock comes off not as a villain or victim, but as a wildly theatrical and complex figure reacting to overwhelming societal oppression and his own daughter’s betrayal. It is remarkably different from the subdued performance he delivered in the same role in the 2004 film version.
Lily Rabe makes for a fierce and very funny Portia, maturing from a sexually frustrated debutante into a legal genius and disenchanted, less innocent housewife.
The uniformly excellent supporting cast includes Byron Jennings, David Harbour, Jesse L. Martin, Heather Lind and Christopher Fitzgerald. Their combined work represents nothing short of a master class in acting Shakespeare.
If you go: “The Merchant of Venice” plays at the Broadhurst Theatre through Jan. 9. 235 W. 44th St., 212-239-6200, merchantonbroadway.com.