Give and Hazard All They Hath
The Leeward Theatre has a wonderful theatre program. I am an alumnus and returning to the campus to watch their Spring Drama 260 Production gave me a warm feeling inside. Drama 260 is a class in Theatrical Production, where the class itself is taking its students and having them mount a production, covering all the aspects a production would need like marketing, design, sound, and costuming alongside acting and being in the production itself. It’s a fun and rewarding class, a great way to test one’s aptitude to working collaboratively with others. It encourages responsibility and tests limits, and students seasoned as well as new begin to understand what it means to truly own a production.
This leads us to the production chosen for the students this semester: The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, which is one of Shakespeare’s “problem plays” because of his treatment of Jews within the play. Antonio, a merchant in Venice, comes across financial troubles when he has to default on a loan to Shylock, a Jewish moneylender. Antonio’s friend, Bassanio, is a Venetian noble who is trying to gain the affections of Portia, of Belmont. Portia is amid many suitors but only has eyes for Bassanio, who she had met before. Shylock is intent on receiving his payment and will stop at nothing to do so against Christians Antonio and Bassanio, his hate being fueled by the fact that his daughter eloped and converted to Christianity with a Christian man. The play is rife with drama, and in true Shakespearean fashion, unfolds layer after layer with justice, monologues, desperate odds, and a couple of gender swapping disguises.
Director Betty Burdick reminds us in her Director’s Note that this is a class, and many of students have not performed Shakespeare before. That being said, many of the performances were impressive. One of the challenges to Shakespeare’s works is not getting lost in his words- a very easy way to tell a novice apart from someone who his seasoned is by merely asking if the actor knows what they are saying or not. I daresay many of the actors here did their homework, and utilized the Bard’s words to the best of their ability. Not all the actors were able to marry their lines with their emotions and subtext, but there were enough of those that did that the story was not lost and it was entertaining to watch this story of lovers getting each others’ backs and friends standing up for each other. Generally, I think it would do well if the cast were to work on their volume and diction, and to slow down- many moments and great lines were blazed through, whether because of nerves or otherwise. A few noteworthy performances: Jay Laeno’s Launcelot Gobbo was a crowd favorite with his energy and playfulness with the lines; while a bit quiet, Nathaniel Jochims’ Shylock was earnest and felt three-dimensional; the sisterhood between Kira Moriguchi and Janei Matsuda’s Portia & Nerissa was a delight to watch; John R. Barajas, Jr.’s earnest and vulnerable Bassanio was a great other side to the more grounded and serious Antonio, played by Jerrold Kanda.
The cast, crew, and guest artists should be proud of their work on this production. I look forward to more of what The Leeward Theatre has to offer, and hope to see these students in more community productions as the years go forward. The Merchant of Venice runs at Leeward’s alternate space, AM-101, April 19-21 at 8pm. Tickets are available at the box office outside of the space.