Though Shakespeare is something which has been revisited and reproduced time and time again, it is rare that one of the minor characters is given a starring role. Written and performed by Ross Ericson, this one-man show is a clever take on the Shakespearean classic
A compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking performance, it made me wish that I had paid more attention to Gratiano during The Merchant of Venice.
Gratiano, who, having reached middle age, reflects on his life: his marriage to Nerissa, his treatment of Shylock, and most importantly his friendship with Bassanio, who has been murdered. The scenes deftly snap between monologues, in which Gratiano relays his misgivings with his fascist past back to the audience, and an interrogation between him and an absent inspector about his connection to Bassanio’s untimely death. Ericson, under the firm and capable direction of Michelle Yim, speaks with the bitterness and frustration of a man who regrets his past decisions, while also injecting enough humour into the piece to maintain an audience’s interest.
This play is set in the middle of the 20th century, though the original was written in the late 1500s. This is a reflection of the flexibility of Shakespeare’s works and their relevance after their time. In discussing the idea of fascism and life in Venice under Mussolini’s dictatorship, we can see issues faced by characters in the Merchant of Venice as prominent problems in modern history. The grotesque description of Shylock and his daughter Jessica being murdered in concentration camps, when related back to their initial struggles in Venetian society in the 1500s, is a sickening portrayal of the longevity of their oppression as a nation, and is an issue handled with care by Ericson.
The downfall of this piece was the way in which the space onstage was left unutilised, and at times, the stage itself seemed sparse. From a technical perspective, the sound effects used occasionally undermined the sensitivity of the subject matter. These are issues which can easily be combatted by Ericson’s stage presence in later performances.
Overall, Gratiano offers a fresh and exciting perspective on a classic tale. A compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking performance, it made me wish that I had paid more attention to Gratiano during The Merchant of Venice.