The Worcester Shakespeare Company will continue its summer tradition of performing under the open sky this July and August with The Merchant of Venice. The company, now in its eighth season, will once again be using the outdoor piazza space at the old Whitin Mill in Whitinsville, Massachusetts.
The Merchant of Venice has not been performed in the area in recent memory, remarks artistic director Mel Cobb, who suggests several theories for why that could be. He mentions finding support for classical works in Worcester County can be a challenge. “Much of the audience is made up of people who have never been to theater before,” he says, adding that many of those who have seen works of Shakespeare have had negative experiences. “The primary reason we exist is to give those people another opportunity to like Shakespeare.”
Cobb also speaks of the challenge of handling The Merchant of Venice, a play that these days is often shunned due to overtones of anti-Semitism. He admits that most theater artists shy away from the play for this reason, noting that a successful production must handle this aspect gingerly. “But even though the play could ruffle some feathers,” he insists, “those feathers need to be ruffled.” Beginning in August, the play will be performed in repertory with The Merchant of Whitinsville, an original companion piece meant to further expand and examine the issue of anti-Semitism. The piece is being written and developed by the company itself as a collaborative effort.
In The Merchant of Venice, Cobb will be portraying Jewish moneylender Shylock, the play’s antagonist. Joining him on stage will be a cast of both New York-based professionals and local actors, including long-time Worcester performers Bill Sigalis (Antonio) and Joseph Miller (Bassanio). They will be performing on a new portable stage designed by Peter McCurdy, master builder of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London, and built by local artisans Michael Burrey and Pret Woodburn.
Since its creation, the Worcester Shakespeare Company has chosen to perform outdoors, in the tradition of the Elizabethan actors who first performed Shakespeare’s works. The company changed venues last year from Worcester’s Green Hill Park to the piazza at the Whitin Mill, which offers views of the Mumford River. The renovated 19th Century textile mill is owned by Alternatives, a non-profit agency dedicated to assisting people with developmental or psychiatric disabilities.
Performances will take place from July 19th through August 25th at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays.