"We sheared away the love story and focused on the Shylock character, inherently because the Shylock character comes across as so anti-Semitic," Johnston says. Shylock is a Jewish moneylender who is portrayed as evil and unfair. He is tormented by the Christian characters in the play, just as Jews were back in Shakespeare's England. Throughout the years, there has been much debate over whether the work is defending or challenging the era's anti-Semitism. Johnston co-wrote Shylock in graduate school with fellow students who believed the latter, which is why they chose such a controversial location.
"[The group] thought it would be good to take The Merchant of Venice and set it in the most anti-Semitic environment possible...a death camp in World War II," Johnston says. The show stars two actors - one who plays Shylock and one who plays all the other roles - who are being forced to perform the piece for an audience of Nazi captors. The setting makes for a chilling interpretation as the lines between actor and prisoner are blurred.
"[Our goal is that the audience] would come away feeling that the play itself can certainly be interpreted in an un-anti-Semitic fashion," Johnston says. "And also to express and understand the power of words; that by taking these words and simply changing context we bring new meaning to them." 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m. Sundays. Through October 5. Midtown Art Center, 3414 La Branch. For tickets and information, call 713-963-9665 or visit www.classicaltheatre.org. $8 to $15.
Thursdays-Saturdays, 7:30 p.m.; Sundays, 2:30 & 7:30 p.m. Starts: Sept. 25. Continues through Oct. 5, 2008