It's no secret that William Shakespeare's plays have the right stuff. Four centuries after they were written and first performed, the playwright's creations are going strong on stages across the planet. The Bard's plays have been presented in an infinite variety of productions. But sometimes those stagings can get in the way of a good story.
Actors From The London Stage, which performs The Merchant of Venice Wednesday and Thursday at Penn State's Schwab Auditorium, takes the view that Shakespeare's plays are first and foremost about carefully crafted words and the marvelous stories they tell.
The British troupe, which features five actors who each perform multiple roles, takes a minimalist approach to its presentations of Shakespeare. Co-founded in the 1970s by stage and screen star Patrick Stewart, Actors From The London Stage uses only the most essential costumes and props—and mere chairs for a set—to keep the focus on Shakespeare's timeless words.
The actors, who have performed with the best Shakespearean companies in Britain, also spend a week in residency at each of the American universities they visit on their twice-a-year tours. In State College Oct. 8 to 13, the troupe members are interacting with Penn State students in various classes. The company is also scheduled to work with students at State College Area High School, visit two retirement communities, and perform The Merchant of Venice for middle and high school students.
The Merchant of Venice, which has known its share of controversy through the years for its depiction of the Jewish money lender Shylock, is a provocative comedy. The play questions justice, love and the length to which we will go to fit in.
Tickets are still available for the Oct. 10 and 11 performances at Schwab. Each begins at 7:30 p.m. The five actors are scheduled to speak at Artistic Viewpoints, which begins one hour before each performance and is free for ticket holders. Audio description, which is especially helpful to patrons with sight loss, is available for the Oct. 11 performance at no additional cost to ticket holders.
Hear an interview with Nicola Alexis, who portrays Portia and other characters in the play.
Read an in-depth article about the production and the company's method of preparation, which includes working without a director.