The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice, 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; $20 (students and seniors $17). Actor’s Workshop at the Wilkerson Theatre inside the California Stage complex, 1725 25th Street; (916) 583-4880; Through October 19.
Rated 4.0

Thursday, September 25, marks the 25th anniversary of Ed Claudio’s Actor’s Workshop of Sacramento—which has both a theater arm and a workshop arm. Claudio, whose theatrical career spans more than 40 years, trained with the famed Stella Adler in New York City, and appeared off-Broadway in The Merchant of Venice.

It’s appropriate then, that Claudio is marking this anniversary with a re-staging of Shakespeare’s great drama. He’s starring as Shylock, the Jewish moneylender whose demand for a pound of flesh for an unpaid debt sparks much of the drama and controversy in the play. It has been called anti-Semitic for its portrayal of the Jew as a usurer, preying upon others’ misfortune.

Claudio’s delivery of Shylock’s great “I am a Jew” soliloquy (“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?”) is reason enough to see this play. But there is much more to commend it. The play is set in the late 1920s in Venice and Belmont, Calif., giving opportunity for many eye-popping costumes (by Laura Luke, Christine Lovette and Ray Tatar). Luke’s ingenious stage design also is very effective.

The large cast includes many of Claudio’s workshop students and varies in its mastery of Shakespeare’s language, but Laura Woodruff (Portia), Jeff Machado (Bassanio), Katie Walton (Nerissa) and Kevin Frame (Lorenzo) have natural stage presence as well as strong deliveries.