In the wake of Christopher Marlowe’s sensational “The Jew of Malta,” featuring the murderous Barabbas, Shakespeare composed “The Merchant of Venice,” featuring another larger-than-life, Jewish money-lender, Shylock. And Shakespeare’s character is the template for a one-man show currently on offer as part of the Shakespeare by the Sea festival, staged in the Supper Room on the second-floor of The Guv’nor Pub.
Written by Mark Leiren-Young and performed by Dave Hallett, “Shylock” is an 80-minute monologue delivered in the guise of the villainous usurer from “The Merchant of Venice.” In voluminous cloak, Hallett paces back and forth between audience on two sides in the intimate, chandelier-lit space, delivering passionate verse from Shylock’s vantage point, interspersed with an actor’s commentary on the role and on the play.
Particularly and persistently explored is the thorny issue of anti-semitism. Was Shakespeare an anti-semite? Was he echoing or challenging the intolerance of his audience?
Is censorship necessary? Should school boards ban controversial Shakespearean plays?
Maybe Shakespeare is dangerous. And how about Scrooge and Tom Sawyer, the actor inquires.
While “Shylock” provides interesting sidelights on the history and reception of “The Merchant of Venice,” the script is occasionally awkward, with some hectoring and some heavy-handed sallies. Commonplaces are delivered vehemently, and anecdotes are often over-emphatic. The text is sometimes didactic and often repetitive.
Eighty continuous minutes with a single actor and a single voice is something of a stretch.
But the virtuosity of Hallett’s one-man performance was recognized and rewarded by the standing ovation of a small, but enthusiastic, opening-night audience.
Co-directed by Ian Campbell and Alix Reynolds, “Shylock” is presented at 8 p.m. in the upstairs Supper Room of The Guv’nor on Elizabethan Avenue, playing on Sundays and Mondays until Aug. 18.