Saturday, July 13, 2013

WYO Shakespeare Festival Company explores "the quality of mercy" Saturday in Cheyenne

Shylock, Portia, Antonio and the crew from the Wyoming Shakespeare Festival Company come to Cheyenne Saturday for a production of "The Merchant of Venice." Curtain rises outdoors at 5 p.m. in the Cheyenne Botanic Gardens. It's free -- bring friends, a picnic, folding chair and an umbrella.

The WSFC works out of Lander and tours the state each summer with a different offering of The Bard. Friday evening, the troupe faced severe thunderstorm warnings in Torrington. But nature's elements don't faze the WSFC. Last July, the players were soaked to the bone as they weathered Cheyenne's only serious thunderstorm in the summer of '12. "King Lear" never looked so good or so wet.

The players are led by Diane Springford, who received a Governor's Arts Award for her efforts. The players are volunteers who devote many hours to rehearsals and travel. Have you ever been involved in local theatre? I have, and am continually amazed by the devotion of actors, directors, costumers, back stage crew, set builders, ticket takers, etc. It takes a village to put on a show. The reward? Putting on a great show. It feeds the ego and challenges you in ways you never anticipated. As in any artistic pursuit, there are good performances and bad ones. You get this sinking feeling when you blow a line or miss a cue. A good performance brings applause and euphoria. 

Shylock is a controversial figure among Shakespeare's characters. This intro was on the title page of the first quarto:  
The most excellent History of the Merchant of Venice. With the extreme cruelty of Shylock the Jew towards the Merchant....
Shylock, the Jewish money lender, is seen through the eyes of a playwright in 1596 Christian England. In the play, set in Venice, Shylock can only be redeemed by converting to Christianity. At the time, the Inquisition was still in effect in Italy and most of Catholic Europe.  

I see the play through the eyes of a 2013 American, one who knows about pogroms and the Holocaust. Today's audiences have to push beyond ourselves to experience the lives of these historic characters and to marvel at Shakespeare's language. As Portia says:
The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes...

See you in the gardens this evening. 

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