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(Washington, DC) – Theater J presents Arnold Wesker's SHYLOCK, a landmark reimagining of the three stories which inspired Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. Featuring beloved international performer Theodore Bikel in the title role and Edward Gero as Antonio, this staged concert reading runs from May 13—May 15, 2007 at 7:30 pm at the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater at the Washington DCJCC. The show is presented in conjunction with the Shakespeare in Washington festival.

"Unlike Shakespeare's avaricious character," notes Artistic Director Ari Roth, "Wesker's Shylock is a generous, educated and humane individual. His undoing not only stems from his pride, but also the anti-Semitic attitudes and policies prevalent in Renaissance Venice."

Set in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice in 1563, the play focuses on the tragic consequences of an absurd contract made between Shylock, a successful loan-banker and pillar in the Venetian Jewish community, and his good friend Antonio, a non-Jewish merchant. Antonio's long-forgotten godson, Bassanio (Tim Getman), seeks him out to borrow 3000 ducats for the wooing of the heiress Portia (Stephanie Burden). Antonio must borrow the money from his friend, who unhesitatingly agrees but is offended when Antonio asks for a contract, a requirement for Venetians who deal with Jews.

The moneylender and his friend agree to a contract that mocks the Venetian law: His friend will provide a pound of his own flesh if he fails to pay the debt in three months time. When Antonio loses his fortune, however, Shylock's seemingly trivial act of defiance threatens his friendship and he is faced with the choice of saving his friend or protecting the Jewish community from disgrace. His pride also distances him from his daughter Jessica (Simone Zvi) who runs off with Bassanio's friend Lorenzo Pisani (Andrew Pecoraro).

Shylock features Theodore Bikel who recently performed in Theater J's The Disputation last season. Bikel's expansive career has been illuminated by superior stage and screen portrayals. In London he won acclaim playing the Russian Colonel in Peter Ustinov's The Love Of Four Colonels and in Sir Lawrence Olivier's original British production of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire with Vivien Leigh. On Broadway, Bikel's list of memorable performances includes Tonight In Samarkand, The Rope Dancers, The Lark and the original Broadway production of The Sound Of Music in which he created the role of Baron von Trapp. Nationally he has starred in countless plays and musicals including tours of Zorba and Fiddler on the Roof. After having played the role of Tevye over 2,000 times since 1967 (most recently the 30th Anniversary tour of Fiddler), Bikel's Tevye continues to garner the highest praise from audiences and critics. A co-founder of the Israeli Cameri (Chamber) Theatre and the Newport Folk Festival, Bikel was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in Stanley Kramer's "The Defiant Ones." Bikel received an Emmy in 1988, has authored two books, recorded 16 albums and has a syndicated radio program "At Home With Theodore Bikel."  

Joining Bikel as part of the distinguished cast is Edward Gero (also featured in Theater J's The Disputation, The Ride Down Mt. Morgan) as Antonio Querini; John Lescault (Theater J's Either Or, Hannah and Martin) as the Doge Girolamo Priuli; Stephanie Burden (Midwives, Round House Theatre) as Portia Contarini; and Tim Getman (Theater J's Passing the Love of Women) as Antonio's godson Bassanio Visconti. Additionally, Simone Zvi (Sleeping Arrangements, Theater J) appears as Shylock's rebellious daughter, Jessica; Andrew Pecoraro (Picnic, The Bay Theater Company) performs as Lorenzo Pisani and the architect Rodriguez da Cunha; and Catherine Flye (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, The Studio Theatre) plays Shylock's sister Rivka. Also featured are Joel Synder (Passing the Love of Women, Theater J), who appears as Shylock's partner Tubal di Ponti and the painter Moses da Castelazzo; Chris Todd (Little Eyolf, Fresh Look Theater Company) who performs as Antonio's assistant, Graziano Sanudo, and the Portuguese playwright Solomon Usque; as well as Karen Novack (Edward III, WSC), who appears as Rebecca da Mendes and Nerissa.

Arnold Wesker, born London 1932, is a prolific British dramatist known for his contributions to kitchen sink drama. He is the author of 42 plays mainly for the stage, four books of short stories, two collections of essays, a book for young people, three more of non-fiction, and an autobiography. His plays include The Kitchen (1957), The Wesker Trilogy (1958/60), comprising Chicken Soup with Barley, Roots, I'm Talking about Jerusalem, Chips with Everything (1962), The Four Seasons (1965), Love Letters on Blue Paper (1976), Shylock (1976), Annie Wobbler (1982), When God Wanted a Son (1986), Caritas (1988), Circles of Perception (1996), Denial (1997), Groupie (2001) and Longitude (2002).

His work, which includes scripts for TV, radio and film is continually performed world-wide, and translated/published in 18 languages. They have won prizes here and abroad. Over the last 40 years Penguin has published seven paperback volumes of his collected plays and one of his stories. These are now gradually being taken over by Methuen Books. He has directed his plays in Havana, Stockholm, Munich, Aarhus, London, Oslo, Madison & Denison universities (U.S.), and Rome.

In addition to the three performances of Shylock Theater J will present post-show discussions as well as a reading of Michael Olmert's Shakespeare and Dr. Lopez (about the Jew who inspired Shakespeare's portrait of Shylock) on Tuesday, May 15 at 4pm, directed by Jessica Lefkow. Prior to the May 14 performance of Shylock, Theater J and the Jewish Historical Society present a free lecture by Dr. Grace Tiffany, a Renaissance scholar who has authored The Turquoise Ring, a fictional prequel to The Merchant of Venice.



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