If you are a Shakespeare lover, chances are you have seen a performance or two of The Merchant of Venice, one of The Bard’s most celebrated plays and, at the same time, one that infuriates modern audiences for its anti-Semitic messages. Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei, the writer of A Wilderness of Monkeys, describes herself as one of those who would be terribly annoyed by the play’s resolution, so she set off, not to rewrite the original play, but to imagine a new ending for it. She calls her play “a revenge-comedy sequel.”
At the end of Shakespeare’s story, the merchant Antonio successfully conspired with his friends Bassanio and Lorenzo to deprive the Jewish moneylender Shylock of both his material goods and his daughter. To inflict a further indignity upon him, the court of Venice rules that he is to be converted to Christianity, if he wants to live.
In A Wilderness of Monkeys, Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, disillusioned with her mate Lorenzo, returns to her father’s house, sad, but wiser. She and Shylock plot a scheme of revenge upon her father’s enemies. It’s a clever new resolution, with plenty of humor, that changes the fate of all the characters in the story without eliminating, and this is important, the best parts of the original text. But in this one… Shylock wins!
Aside from the plot twist, this play is innovative in the way it’s delivered. Some of it is prerecorded, but most of it happens, well, like theater is supposed to, live in front of your eyes… only this time on Zoom. The actors deserve credit for it. It is obviously not the same talking to the camera of a laptop than interacting on stage. It must have taken lots of rehearsing, but now they are making it look easy.
Another plus, the play’s language is accessible, so do not fear Shakespeare’s “thous” and “thys.” If you’re wondering what “a wilderness of monkeys” has to do with it all, the words were written by Shakespeare and given to Shylock in the original text, on Act III, Scene 1.
“… it was my turquoise; I had it of Leah when I was a bachelor: I would not have given it for a wilderness of monkeys.”
Cuban-American Beatrice Casagran directs. The cast includes (in alphabetical order) R.J. Balde, Judd Johnson, Blake McCormack, Aaron Pyle, Jessie Pyle, Julia Stier and Amanda Zarr.
There will be a performance today Friday at 7 pm, Saturday, March 20, at 3 and 7 pm, and Sunday, March 21, at 5 pm. Admission is “pay what you can.” Visit http://opheliasjump.org for a ticket. Once you donate, you will be sent a Zoom link.