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Theater review: 'The Merchant of Venice' -- 3.5 stars

F. Murray Abraham as Shylock in

F. Murray Abraham as Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" Photo Credit: Handout

The Merchant of Venice

3.5 stars

Never let it be said that too much Shakespeare is a bad thing. The Bard’s work is so open to interpretation that even the same play can be presented in completely different ways and adapted to new settings and to accommodate different points of view.

Just two weeks after the Public Theater’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” starring Al Pacino closed on Broadway after a sold-out run, Theatre for a New Audience has revived its 2007 Off-Broadway production of the play with F. Murray Abraham in preparation for a national tour.

Daniel Sullivan’s Broadway staging, which premiered last summer as a free Shakespeare in the Park staging, used an Edwardian dress code and minimalist set design consisting of revolving, prison-like black iron gates.

On the other hand, Darko Tresnjak’s equally captivating modern-dress production is set among Wall Street traders who wear power suits and Bluetooths. The three caskets that Portia’s suitors must choose from have been replaced with identical white MacBooks.

Pacino’s Shylock was wildly theatrical and exaggerated. F. Murray Abraham, wearing a simple gray suit and black yarmulke that is later removed by force, is far more believable but just as fascinating and deeply felt. His Shylock is deeply wounded by his daughter’s betrayal and merely trying to survive and maintain his dignity in a prejudiced and unfair society.

Just as Sullivan added a wordless sequence depicting the forced baptism of Shylock, Tresnjak has imposed his own personal stamp — having Bassanio and Antonio impetuously kiss during the courtroom scene, literalizing their latent homosexual relationship. While it is an unnecessary move, it hardly mars this otherwise excellent production.

If you go: “The Merchant of Venice” runs at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts through Sunday. 3 Spruce St., 212-352-3101, tfana.com
 

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