Shylock Takes On Many Faces At New Haven's International Festival

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There will be a gathering of Shylocks in New Haven when Compagnia de’ Colombari, an international collective of performing artists led by Karin Coonrod, brings a radical and revealing take on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice to the International Festival of Arts & Ideas June 19-23.

Coonrod, who is also a lecturer at the Yale School of Drama, created the work with her company and others, and it was performed in the Jewish ghetto of Venice, Italy, two years ago. Coonrod says the ghetto was both a thriving hub of Jewish world culture and a once-quarantined island, confined and marginalized by the dominant Venetian culture. Her production attracted Shakespearean scholars and fans from around the world — including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who also presided in a mock appeal of Shylock at a separate event there).

In Coonrod’s staging, Shylock — who is featured in five scenes in the play — will be played by five different actors, including Lynda Gravatt, an African-American actor. (Also featured as Portia will be Linda Powell, who has performed on Connecticut stages over the years.)

The production in Venice was to “exorcise the ghost of Shylock,” Coonrod says, referring to the role that some see as anti-Semitic.

In Coonrod’s version each actor represents a different aspect of the character: as merchant, father, widower, grieving mother, and killer.

The multiple actors play different aspects of Shylock that are both specific and universal, she says.

“It is my feeling that Shylock is extremely human and that his humanity is what is sometimes compromised by looking at him as a kind of comic villain or as tragic hero.”