Thursday February 22nd 2018

“The Merchant of Venice”

”His pound of flesh!”- many have used and heard this expression used in conversations regarding revenge, but are not aware of the source. The source is from Shakespeare’s most controversial play, “The Merchant of Venice”, now on the magnificent grounds of The Peabody Estate in Oakbrook, as First Folio Theatre’s Shakespeare under the stars, outdoor theater. The Mayslake Peabody Estate, near route 83 and 31st street in Oakbrook is a beautiful area with the estate itself and rolling hills, loads of trees and a stage that allows you to either sit in their chairs, bring your own or better yet, bring a blanket and plant yourself on the hill where you can relax and watch this troupe of young, bright actors bring the works of  Shakespeare to life, under the stars.

While the weather this year has not been what one would call perfect for sitting under the stars watching a show, it seems that the air does cool off a bit at night and the area is well sprayed for mosquitoes. They also put out many buckets of bug repellent to make it much more comfortable and the actors are able to overcome the airplanes overhead, the motorcycles on Route 83 and an occasional blare of horns as well as a few low flying birds flying about in search of leftovers as you can picnic on the grounds prior to the production.

“The Merchant Of Venice” is a tale of hatred, love, revenge and betrayal as a Venetian merchant, Antonio ( Michael Joseph Mitchell) in order to help his young friend Bassanio ( deftly handled by Kevin McKillip) and borrow some money from the town “money lender” Shylock ( a powerful performance by Michael Goldberg) the Jew. To guarantee he will repay, Antonio agrees that should he not do so, he will allow Shylock to remove from his body ( closest to the heart) one pound of flesh ( now you see where the statement comes form). Shylock is Antonio’s rival and so when he is told that Antonio cannot pay him back, he enjoys knowing that Antonio’s flesh is his- he will get his revenge . When they appear in court to settle the matter, a young lawyer proves to Shylock that he cannot have what he desires without breaking the law and losing his fortunes.

It turns out, however, that this young lawyer is not a lawyer or in fact, even a young man, but Portia ( Melanie Keller) Bassino’s wife, who has disguised herself to save her husband’s friend as well as to prove to her husband that women are as powerful as men. Remember, this is 16th century Venice an dthe topics covered are prejudices, fears about religion, gender, sexuality and is probably the first major work to deal with anti-semitism. Part of the play deals with Shylock’s daughter,Jessica ( Cassidy Shea Stirtz) who runs away , giving up her religion for love. Much of what we see in the characters and the story lines are things that are still in the minds of many,today!

Directed by Alison C. Vesely, on a set by Angela Weber Miller, this is a smooth production making the 2 1/2 hours appear much shorter. Working under the stars, the show cannot begin until the sky is dark enough ( roughly 8:15) and while they cannot use as many lighting effects, Michael McNamara makes sure that stage is covered with illumination so that we can see the action. The original music during scene changes and interludes adds something very special to the production ( Christopher Kriz, who also handles the sound) and the costumes by Rachel Lambert along with the props ( Kayla Straub) are the icing on the cake.

Shakespeare wrote many plays and most all of them have a story that includes sexual identity or cross dressing and identity situations- this follows that, but is most important to understand , in this one, that Shylock, who deserved to be paid back was not. In fact, he himself lost what he owned and had to become a Christian in order to remain in the the city. This is a major wrong to a man who wanted revenge, but did not deserve to be treated as he was. Yes, he wanted more than he should have received and he did turn down an offer of more that was borrowed, so there are those who say he received his “just desserts”!, but did he really? He lost his position, his possessions and his daughter , so I for one am not one who loves the play itself. That being said, this was a solid production and a special experience and one that you might want to consider as a different way to attend the theater- casual is the name of the game for this one!

“The Merchant of Venice” will continue at The Peabody Estate through August 19th with performances as follows:        

Wednesdays,Fridays,Saturdays and Sundays at 8:15 p.m.

Tickets range from $26-$37 ( discounts for students and seniors)

To order yours call the box office at 630-986-8067 or visit

There is lots of free parking, come early, bring a box dinner and walk about the grounds

To see what others say, visit go to review roundup page and click on The Merchant of Venice

Also- if this is a play you desire more info on First Folio will be presenting a staged reading of Shylock and His Daughter


by Ari Ibn-Zahav, dramatized by Maurice Schwartz
July 26, Aug 2, 9, 16
All tickets $10

As an added offering this summer, First Folio is proud to present a special staged reading of Shylock and His Daughter. Originally written for the Yiddish Art Theater and then translated into English, this play tells the same story that Shakespeare told—only from Shylock’s perspective. This production will utilize the same cast as our mainstage production of The Merchant of Venice.

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