Bloomington’s Halloween weekend will mix the spooky with some sonnets as the Cardinal Stage Company performs Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” at 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Ivy Tech Whikehart Auditorium.
The play tells the story of Bassanio, a young man who is attempting to marry a woman but lacks the money to do so.
A man named Shylock lends him the money but demands either the full amount in return or a pound of his friend Antonio’s flesh.
Originally, Shakespearean plays cast exclusively male actors, meaning men would have to dress as women and play those roles as well.
Cardinal Stage Company’s “Merchant of Venice” plays with this idea by casting all roles with female actresses, meaning women will play all of the show’s female roles and the males roles as well.
“What’s interesting in ‘Merchant’ is that all of the people in the play, the women actors who are playing males and women who are playing women also get to play men,” Director Randy White said. “Their characters cross-dress as men, so everybody plays a male at some point.”
Shakespeare originally used cross-dressing to give the play humor, and Cardinal Stage’s adaptation continues this concept in its own way, White said.
“His plays were all a single-sex cast, it was all men, so we’ve just inverted that,” White said. “Secondly, the cross-dressing in the comedies — “Twelfth Night, ”“As You Like It,” “Merchant of Venice,” — is very much part of the role, so we thought it would be fun to play with that cross-dressing.”
The complex nature of gender in the play is coupled with a complex plot and mixes humor with dramatic scenes and roles, White said.
“‘Merchant’ is a tricky script, because it’s comedy and it’s also got incredible intense sequence of Shylock in the play who, although he’s funny at some times, is sort of very complicated, interesting and a troublesome figure at the heart of a comedy,” White said.
The cast is larger than most of the casts he has worked with for plays, White said.
He said the casting gives the actresses a unique experience.
“It gives women an opportunity to play roles they wouldn’t otherwise get to play,” White said. “Most classical plays tend to have 60, 70, 80 percent men in the cast.”
White said he hopes the audience has fun with the genders on stage, but he hopes the audience forgets that the actors on stage are women.
“I hope that the story gets told,” White said. “That’s always my job is to tell the story of the play, and that the audience at some point forgets that they’re a cross-gendered cast and just understands them as the roles and understands them as the characters.”
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