Shylock, the Jew of Venice Theater lovers should be filling up the Midtown Art Center thanks to the inaugural production of Houston's brand-new Classical Theatre Company. Shylock, the Jew of Venice is a pared-down and astonishingly moving version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice that imagines two Auschwitz prisoners forced to perform the controversial play for their captors. The setup is elegant in its simplicity. As the audience walks into Midtown, the unnamed prisoners depicted by Thomas Prior (who also plays Shylock) and David Wald (who plays various other characters in Shakespeare's story) are moving slowly through the dark business of sorting through the suitcases of the Jews sent to their deaths. Once the audience is seated, both hollow-eyed and broken men move to the edge of the stage and announce The Merchant of Venice, then proceed to enact only the scenes from the play that focus on Shylock, one of Shakespeare's most confounding characters. This adaptation, created by Lara Haberberger, Laley Lippard, Sammy Wegent and John Johnston (also the director), revisits the Shylock question: Is he a horrid stereotype or a critique of Christian bias? The results are an extraordinary production, one of the best of Shakespeare anywhere in Houston over the last decade. Prior is astounding, and Wald moves gracefully through several characters. And in the end, the stunned audience I sat with leaped to its feet in applause. Buy your ticket today. Through October 5. 3414 LaBranch, 713-963-9665. — LW

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