Pretty Piece of Flesh

Custom Made’s production of The Merchant of Venice represents at least two theatrical milestones. Not only is it the theater company’s first Shakespeare production; it’s also the first time this play has been fully produced in San Francisco city limits in decades. The reason for that, of course, is Shylock (Catz Forsman), whose greed and cruelty, the play more than implies, are the natural result of his Judaism. But director Stuart Bousel won’t be softening the antihero’s controversial qualities, as many other directors have done. “I’ll make him understandable, I’ll make him motivated, but I’m not going to pull any punches,” he says. For Bousel, our excessive focus on Shylock obscures the play’s real offerings. “It’s not a play about Shylock. It’s not a play about Portia (Megan Briggs). It’s a play about a complex society” -- and one that closely mirrors our own. Like modern-day San Francisco, Renaissance Venice was wealthy, ethnically diverse, socially progressive, and culturally rich. In other words, it too had a superiority complex. To convey that connection, Bousel’s design is “a temporal hodgepodge,” with the score coming from all eras of pop music and the costumes blending Mad Men and American Psycho. “It’s constructed to hit as close to home as possible with just enough distance to have perspective on it,” says Bousel.
Thursdays-Saturdays. Starts: July 19. Continues through Aug. 5, 2012

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