One of the results of my taking drama classes at the University a couple of years ago, is that I got to meet quite a few wonderful young actors both in the B.A. and B.F.A. Drama programs. I will admit, that my favorites were those from my 257 class and this year I have revisited campus for some shows featuring the work of friends from that class. Earlier I took in Much Ado About Nothing and some of New Works and this past weekend, I watched the 3rd year BFA class in The Merchant of Venice. It was a stark show, in blacks and creams and hints of red. Pacing was sharp and the ensemble cast did a nice job with the piece. I have only seen the play once before (over 15 years ago in Regina) so had to work hard to remember the story. It took me a couple scenes to realize that the Merchant was changed to a woman, Antonia played with maturity by Bobbi Goddard, which added an interesting layer to the loyalty of Maxwell LeBeuf's Bassanio that probably doesn't exist when the Merchant is a man. LeBeuf makes a lovely suitor to Portia played by the luminous Kabriel Lilly. Lilly was delightful and my personal favorite in the play. Her scenes with Nerissa (Nikki Hulkowski) are my favorites. The two of them are so comfortable onstage together that those scenes felt very truthful. There are many moments of fun in the piece. The first two suitors, played by Hunter Cardinal and Dylan Parsons, are quite funny as their characterizations are of the go-big-or-go-home variety. Hunter, as Gratiano, and Hulkowski are also scene stealers when they pursue each other quite lustily in contrast to the more restrained courtship of Portia and Bassanio. I also quite enjoyed Zvonimir Rac as Lancelet, his quick energy and wit was brisk and clear.
It was good to have these bits of humour and romance as there are aspects of the play that do not wear well over time. The persecution and treatment of Shylock seems particularly harsh in light of our modern values. They did not, however, shy away or soften it so it left the audience to deal with it. I also wish that Shylock did not seem so angry off the top. He was a hard person to like. Perhaps if he were more likable, if he showed more affection for his daughter, I might have had more sympathy with him. As it was, he just seemed angry. Of course, when you consider the way he was spoken to, maybe I'd be angry all the time too...
In any case, I am looking forward to seeing this class on the main stage at the Timm's next season. I am not sure what plays will be chosen, but I think there are some really bright lights that will be great to see.
Next up at the Timm's is Blood Wedding by Lorca which is the final production by the 2014 BFA graduating class which will run from March 27 - April 5.