Plymouth Theatre, (11/16/1977 - 11/19/1977)

First Preview: Nov 09, 1977
Opening Date: Nov 16, 1977
Closing Date: Nov 19, 1977
Total Previews: 8
Total Performances: 5

Category: Play, Original, Broadway
Setting: Venice and Belmont. 1563.
Comments: Zero Mostel played Shylock at the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia (Pre-Broadway tryout) for one preview (September 2, 1977). He died suddenly on September 8, 1977 and was replaced by Joseph Leon.

Opening Night Production Staff

Theatre Owned / Operated by The Shubert Organization (Gerald Schoenfeld: Chairman; Bernard B. Jacobs: President)

Produced by The Shubert Organization (Gerald Schoenfeld: Chairman; Bernard B. Jacobs: President), The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Roger Berlind and Eddie Kulukundis; Produced in association with SRO Productions, Ltd.

Written by Arnold Wesker

Directed by John Dexter

Scenic Design by Jocelyn Herbert; Costume Design by Jocelyn Herbert; Lighting Design by Andy Phillips; Lighting Supervised by Andrea Wilson; Sound Consultant: Otts Munderloh; Wig Design by Paul Huntley

General Manager: Marvin A. Krauss; Company Manager: G. Warren McClane

Production Stage Manager: Brent Peek; Stage Manager: Pat DeRousie; Assistant Stage Mgr: Brian Meister and Mark Blum

General Press Representative: Merle Debuskey; Press Representative: Susan L. Schulman; Advertising: Matthew Serino and The Blaine Thompson Agency; Photographer: Martha Swope

Opening Night Cast

John ClementsAntonio Querini
A merchant of Venice
Joseph LeonShylock Kolner
A Jew of Venice
Roberta MaxwellPortia Contarini
An heiress of Venice
Marian SeldesRivka Kolner
Shylock's sister
Russ BanhamVenetian
Mark BlumVenetian
Philip CarrollVenetian
James David CromarVenetian
Julie GarfieldJessica Kolner
Shylock's daughter
Gloria GiffordNerissa
Portia's maid
Jeffrey Horowitz
Broadway debut
Solomon Usque
A playwright
Leib LenskyMoses of Castelazzo
A portrait painter
Rebecca MalkaServant
Everett McGillLorenzo Pisani
Bassanio's friend
Brian MeisterVenetian
Riggs O'HaraGraziano Sanudo
Antonio's assistant
William RoerickGirolamo Priuli
Doge of Venice
John SeitzTubal di Ponti
Shylock's partner
Nicolas SurovyBassanio Visconti
Antonio's godson
Boris TumarinAbtalion da Modena
Shylock's tutor
John TyrrellVenetian
Angela WoodRebecca da Mendes
Daughter of Portugese banker

Understudies: Russ Banham (Lorenzo Pisani), Mark Blum (Moses of Castelazzo, Solomon Usque), Philip Carroll (Girolamo Priuli, Moses of Castelazzo, Solomon Usque, Tubal di Ponti), James David Cromar (Bassanio Visconti), Pat DeRousie (Jessica Kolner, Rebecca da Mendes), Leib Lensky (Abtalion da Modena), Rebecca Malka (Jessica Kolner, Nerissa, Portia Contarini, Rebecca da Mendes), Brian Meister (Abtalion da Modena), William Roerick (Antonio Querini), John Seitz (Shylock Kolner), John Tyrrell (Graziano Sanudo) and Angela Wood (Nerissa, Rivka Kolner)

Awards and Nominations

Drama Desk Award

 1978 Outstanding New Play [nominee] 

Produced by The Shubert Organization (Gerald Schoenfeld: Chairman; Bernard B. Jacobs: President), The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Roger Berlind and Eddie Kulukundis; Produced in association with SRO Productions, Ltd.; Written by Arnold Wesker


New York Daily News: "Defanged 'Merchant'"

There's really no way to explain, justify, twist or gloss over the anti-Semitic aspect of "The Merchant of Venice." It's damned annoying, but there it is; a popular bid, it has often been felt, to the climate of the day. All we can do is find comfort in Shakespeare's compassionate two-sided approach, culminating in Shylock's what-is-a-Jew? speech. But while in "The Merchant," which opened last night at the Plymouth, Arnold Wesker has tried to dignify the ill-fated bargain between Shylock and Antonio, his manipulations have forced him to rob us of this comfort and weaken the tale.

In his thoughtful and wordy (sometimes to the point of windiness) realignment of the forces that make up the original (itself a welding of and borrowing from other sources), it now falls to Antonio to cite the vulnerabilities common to Jews and all others. And it is not the quality of mercy that prompts Portia to intercede, and just briefly, in court; it is her simple discovery that a pound of flesh cannot be weighed in advance. Shylock, true, is stripped of his possessions, including the precious books Wesker has piled on him, but he takes off - rather relievedly, I thought - for the Holy Land, feeling it's high time, and Antonio ruminates about having to visit him there one day.

What has happened, you see, is that Wesker, in seeking to ennoble the harsh contract, has taken the malice, the very sting, out of the play. The merchant Antonio is an old man here, as old as Shylock, and though the latter does make passing reference to his occasional contempt for all men, neither Shylock's hatred and contempt for Antonio nor the latter's cavalier attitude toward the usurer are present. In their place, I'm afraid, is deep and abiding brotherly love. The contract is merely a whimsical attempt to mock Venetian law.

"The Merchant" might work if there were no "Merchant of Venice" to begin with. The speech is classically cadenced, the air laden with aphorisms and poeticisms and, except for an occasional slip into constructions along the lines of present-day smart talk, acceptable as 16th century stage speech. This is no idle undertaking. It is, for Wesker, a major effort. But, it is, nevertheless, a "Merchant" out of joint, defanged and robbed of moment.

In giving practically the whole play to Shylock, Wesker has made the bearded old money-lender (an important figure in a Venetian ghetto of 1,400 Jews) an insatiably curious, beaming intellectual with a quicksilver mind and, alas, a quicksilver tongue that runs to garrulity. He is the chap who can't wait to speak up and, once having done so, refuses to stop. As the two old friends sit and drink wine together and exchange fond glances, Antonio does get quite a few words in edgewise, but Shylock is always ready to pounce.

Joseph Leon, in the role the late Zero Mostel created out of town, is a vibrant Shylock though, as I have indicated, a somewhat monotonous one, entirely due to the author. John Clements brings all the requisite dignity, orotundity and a becoming graciousness to Antonio. Roberta Maxwell, with new copper-toned hair bleaching out her good looks a bit, makes of Portia as buoyant a figure as possible even though, in addition to losing her quality-of-mercy speech, she's reduced to a single suitor, Bassanio, in the casket scene, and a couple of sentences about his predecessors. Yes, even that old magic is gone - the gold, the silver and the lead turned into an alloy in one man's speculations.

Julie Garfield is allowed to offer little more than an interesting, attractive presence and one high-falutin' speech as Jessica. Marian Seldes, in the role of a sister of Shylock's, has one good scene as a scourge. Nicolas Surovy plays the arrogant, anti-Semitic dolt well as Portia's successful suitor, Bassanio, and the several other parts are adequately handled in what is an unusually large cast for today's Broadway.

John Dexter has staged the piece handsomely in Jocelyn Herbert's elegantly simple unit set, beautifully lighted by Andy Phillips.

An interesting try, but one necessarily doomed.

New York Daily News

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