The Merchant of Venice

Al Pacino demands his pound of flesh again, this time on Broadway.

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Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

It's all good and well to enjoy Shakespeare under the stars, a piney breeze wafting over the lake and small woodland creatures pausing to savor the iambic pentameter, but I'm more awed and engaged by Daniel Sullivan's supremely intelligent Merchant of Venice now that it's moved indoors. This somber and stately (but never dull) production was the hot ticket in a boiling summer at the Delacorte Theatre. Such zeal was stoked, obviously, by Al Pacino's turn as vengeful moneylender Shylock. But surely urgent word of mouth also swelled the throngs of people waiting for free tickets. Now the seats carry a hefty price tag, but I doubt that will dampen sales or demand.

For this remount, director Sullivan has assembled an even stronger cast to explore the indissoluble pride and prejudices of Shakespeare's religiously divided Venice. David Harbour steps in to portray a bashful golden-boy Bassanio who easily wins the loving patronage of wealthy Antonio (Jennings) and the heart of whip-smart ingenue Portia (Rabe). Seth Numrich's Lorenzo is appropriately more callow than Bill Heck was this summer, and his elopement with Shylock's hothouse-flower daughter Jessica (Heather Lind) is both convincing in its sexy rashness and plausible in its subsequent awkwardness. As for Pacino, he has settled even more masterfully into the role, sounding deep bass notes of woe and wrath that were potent before, but seem shattering now. Pacino's tragic arc from frisky (but bitter) trickster to devastated father and thrice-betrayed victim of a hypocritical Christian state is massive in scope and beguiling in its minute, humanizing details, mumbling and shrugging giving way to volcanoes of rage.

Set designer Mark Wendland surrounds the Edwardian-dressed actors with elegant but menacing hoops of black steel bars, suggesting a world of gates and cages, Jews and Christians seething in sequestered homes and stock exchanges, signing contracts and breaking covenants of civility. These metallic walls may swing smoothly to reconfigure, but no one in Venice truly escapes them. Just pray these barriers—or any others—don't keep you from seeing this spectacular reckoning with a disturbing classic.

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Broadhurst Theatre. By William Shakespeare. Dir. Daniel Sullivan. With Al Pacino, Lily Rabe, Byron Jennings. 3hrs. One intermission.