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'The Merchant of Venice'

Rogue Community College will present William Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," directed by John Cole and Ron Danko, opening May 9 at The Warehouse in downtown Medford. Set in contemporary New York City, the controversial play explores religion, justice, and love in a world where commerce is king.

Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays May 9-18, and at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 11. Cole says previous plays in the venue have filled to standing-room only and suggests buying tickets early.

Because it charges in where angels fear to tread (ethnocentrism, hypocrisy, greed, irony and, especially, racism), "The Merchant of Venice" is sometimes dogged by charges of containing bigotry and stereotypes, particularly in the portrayal of the villain, Shylock, a legalistic Jewish moneylender.

"I think all plays are about stereotypes," Cole says. "I think that's a way we say things about people. The Christians are also stereotypes.

"Anybody who thinks the play is anti-Semitic isn't paying attention. It's amazing. It's a monster. It's got so many styles: tragedy, romantic comedy, farce — almost the theater of the absurd."

The play is the story of the merchant of the title, Antonio, who pledges a pound of flesh as security when he borrows money for his friend, Bassanio, from Shylock. The moneylender is ultimately foiled not by the men but by Portia, a strong, Shakespearean woman and the love interest of Bassanio. She defeats Shylock in a climactic trial that represents the victory of young love over a spirt of rigid legalism.

The play is comic in structure but is sometimes seen as a problem play. While Elizabethan attitudes toward Jews are troubling to contemporary audiences, anti-Semitism was taken for granted in Elizabethan England.

Cole says none of the characters is a cardboard cutout, and all are complicated.

"I think contemporary audiences have the ability to hash that out," he says. "The Sopranos are deeply flawed characters who do despicable things, but they're fascinating.

"What we are trying to do is get people to reflect on what Shakespeare meant. I think he meant to say that we're all flawed. Everybody has moments where they behave poorly. It's a human thing."

Jennifer Phillips of Jacksonville is cast as Portia. Rob Hirschboeck of Ashland, plays Shylock. Bassanio will be played by Dayzin Turchiano of Ashland. Robert Day of Talent will play Antonio.

Scenic designer is Karl Brake, an art teacher at RCC. Costume designers are RCC students Janet Eshoo and Shawn Fennel.

Tickets are $10, and $8 for students.

Call 245-7637.

A scene from Rogue Community College's production of William Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice.' - Rogue Community College