In the summer of 1991 (or was it 1992), I had an opportunity to go to Cedar City, Utah, for a 10-day acting program associated with the Utah Shakespearean Festival. We arrived on a Friday and left on a Monday. During the course of the week we got to see each of the six plays presented at the festival, one a night from the first Monday through the following Saturday. We each also got to perform a monologue and a scene from Shakespeare (coached by two different festival actors) on the outdoor "Globe"-style theatre.
My monologue character was Volumnia, mother of the title character from Coriolanus. Not a play that gets presented a lot, and not a character many would pick, but the whole imposing female thing had worked for me before...at least on the stage. My scene was from As you Like It, playing Audrey (a very, v-e-r-y simple country girl to my scene partner's Touchstone). Again, at my second entrance, the audience erupted in laughter. Something my monologue coach said has stuck with me ever since, "To be great, you have to give up being good." That is something I struggle with - attaining a certain level of proficiency and then settling into a comfort zone and hibernating.
Anyway, what does all this have to do with Venice? Well, one of the plays presented that year was "The Merchant of Venice". For those unfamiliar with the play, Portia has many suitors, in part owing to her father's enormous wealth, which became hers when her father passed away. But in order to win her hand, each suitor must pick from amongst a gold, a silver and an iron box. One of the boxes has a picture of Portia, and if the suitor picks that box, he gets the girl. Bassanio wants Portia, and Portia is partial to Bassanio, but they are bound by the deceased father's edicts.
In the meantime, two other suitors, Princes of Morocco and Arragon, make their choices, to former choosing the gold box and the latter choosing the silver. The provisions of the test stipulate that they may never again choose and they may not tell anyone else their choice.
Well, the director of this production included a device where it was actually Bassanio in costume as both of the princes, in turn. Aside from the obvious problems in ethics, it was one of the more inventive things I've seen done with a Shakespeare play in a long time, so I liked it. Not so my associates. After each play we had a discussion (late at night). Some of the comments were downright vitriolic (oooh, there's another good "v" word for today).
It put me in mind of another production of Shakespeare I saw at the Pioneer Memorial Theatre on the University of Utah campus, where the setting was in the 1940's era. At one point, the main character breaks the fourth wall and says, "What, you don' like this? You prefer the traditional style of Shakespeare play like they do in Cedar City?" At which point, he dropped his mobster-trousers, showing that he had on the tights and pantaloons of a more expected Shakespearean performance. If I had had a drink in my mouth, I would have spewed. Seriously, it was that funny.
One day I would like to see the real city of Venice, but until then I have my memories of the merchant.