The Merchant of Venice
7 pm Thursday-Saturday, June 27-29. 7 pm Friday, July 5. 6 pm Saturday-Sunday, July 6-7. 7 pm Thursday-Saturday, July 11-13. 7 pm Thursday-Friday, July 18-19. 6 pm Saturday, July 20., Thursday July 11 | Free.
When updating Shakespeare, it doesn’t make sense to stop halfway. Portland Actors Ensemble’s free, al fresco production of The Merchant of Venice
is like watching Miami Vice
characters trying to speak Elizabethan English. In director Bruce Hostetler’s rendition of Shakespeare's play—centered, of course, on a Jewish usurer who seeks revenge on an anti-Semitic merchant by demanding a pound of his flesh in repayment for a debt—all Italian and Jewish characters don modern dress and carry iPhones, while the princes of Morocco and Aragon wear period clothing, with the latter even wielding a sword. It’s an inconsistency that sometimes makes for a jarring, less-than-cohesive production. With his booming voice, Shylock (James Peck) steals the thunder from many of the younger actors. Still, despite the mishmash of costumes and varied performances—on a recent evening, Bassanio stood silent for a good 15 seconds; I was unsure if he forgot his lines—this Merchant
still manages to entertain, thanks to the energy of the cast. And unlike the June performances in downtown’s Terry Schrunk Plaza, which were interrupted by blaring hip-hop music and police sirens, most of July’s shows will thankfully be held in the much quieter Washington Park.