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Theater review: 'The Merchant of Venice' at Theatre Banshee

March 29, 2012 |  3:00 pm

“The Merchant of Venice”
Who would have thought that Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” was such a romp?

Certainly, Shakespeare’s “tragic comedy” has taken a lot of heat in recent decades for its arguably problematic portrayal of Shylock, the usurious Jew bent on vengeance against a noble Christian.

Yet director Sean Branney, who won a Los Angeles Drama Critics’ Award for his direction of last season’s “The Crucible,” largely redresses that pitfall by emphasizing the comical in a surprisingly rollicking staging.  And if all that high energy occasionally verges on the manic, the production nonetheless scores high points as a richly cogent entertainment that honors every syllable of the Bard’s text.

Branney is particularly fortunate in his Shylock -- stage vet Barry Lynch, in a galvanic turn.  Played with understated shrugs and the faint hint of an Eastern European accent, Lynch’s subtle Shylock explodes into roaring power as he prepares to extract his grisly payment from his debtor, Antonio (excellent Time Winters.)  As Antonio’s bosom friend, Bassanio, who borrows from Antonio to woo his lady love, Portia (Kirsten Kollender), Daniel Kaemon is also fine.

The stripped down production elements suffice for Branney’s painterly staging.  Branney has a knack for composition, a talent particularly evident in the crowd scenes, which are superbly orchestrated, with no “walla walla” interchanges or false notes.  But, Branney may consider tamping down Kollender’s prancing Portia, who gambols overmuch in a high-decibel performance that is antic to a fault.  Perhaps Kollender was just over-compensating for a meager house on a rainy Sunday, but she needs to ease up a tad here and there.

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“The Merchant of Venice,” Theatre Banshee, 3435 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank.  8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 13. $20. (818) 846-5323.  www.theatrebanshee.org. Running time:  2 hours, 45 minutes. 

Photo: Daniel Kaemon, from left, Time Winters, Brett Mack, Barry Lynch and Kirsten Kollender. Credit: Donald Agnelli.

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