September 25 - November 1, 1997

A modern retelling of Shakespeare's MERCHANT OF VENICE, A POUND OF FLESH is the
story of Antonio, a wealthy merchant who borrows a sum of money from the Jewish money
lender Shylock.  When Antonio is unable to repay the debt, Shylock attempts to collect the
agreed upon bond: a pound of Antonio's flesh.  Unlike the original, Todd Alcott's tale of
"the Merchant and the Jew" is less about religous or racial bigotry and more a story of injustice in an unjust world.

Antonio - Jonathan Goldstein
Salerio - Mark Lifrieri
Bassanio - Christopher Northup
Portia - Melanie Hall
Nerissa - Danielle Surrette
Shylock - Adam Bitterman
Gratiano - Dan Etheridge
Lorenzo - Robert d'Entremont
Jessica - Grace C. Renn
Morocco / Ali / Aman / Akbar - Gerald McClanahan

The Duke / Aragon - Vince DonVito

Production Staff
Produced for Sacred Fools by Jonathan L. Goldstein
Written and Directed by Todd Alcott

Costume Design by Perry Ash
Lighting Design by Dan Reed
Sound Design by Ethan Minton
Set Design by David Holcomb
Production Stage Manager - Aaron Pellman

Pound of Flesh Cast & Crew
L to R: Perry Ash, Danielle Surrette, Adam Bitterman, Melanie Hall,
Chris Northrup, Dan Etheridge, Gerald McClanahan, Robert d'Entremont
Mark Lifrieri, Grace C. Renn, Aaron Pellman, Jonathan Goldstein,
Vince DonVito & Todd Alcott


    While one should always be wary of comtemporized Shakespeare without the language, Todd Alcott's A Pound of Flesh tips the scales favorably. Trimming all the gristle from The Merchant of Venice, he effectively seasons his completely rewritten script into digestible modern verse. Briskly intermissionless, the sizzling strips of scene work barely add or subtract from the salient poits of the Bard's intention. With invigorating imagery, he presents the ready-to-eat issues and even overcomes some weaknesses from the original.

    Merchant is about Antonio, who takes a loan from Shylock. For various reasons, the lender refuses any interest but requires a default payment bond of a pound of flessh. The loan is for Antonio's loving friend, Bassanio, who seeks to woo the wealthy Portia. After Shylock's daughter betrays him and Antonio defaults on the loan Shylock tries to enforce the bond. However, through a tricky, but strict, application of the law, Shylock loses nearly everything he has. Preparing only a handful of original ideas, Alcott takes no sides in the argument, serving up the characters as the villainous humans they are. Shylock and family are persecuted Venetian Jews, while the rest are dubious Chrsitians. The play examines the value of life, love and humanity in the face of racist materialism.

    Both the inspiration and the adaptation filet our culture with pertinent symbolism. Sadly, Alcott diets Portia's unethical assistance of her lover's box choice and skimps the first course of Antonio's homosexual infatuation for Bassanio. Instaead, he offers a sweet dessert of "Jessica" that evens the odds. Grace Renn's heart succinctly fleshes out the small daughter's role. Gerald McClanahan and Vince DonVito are tasty in an original scene skewering the inherent racism of our society. Adam Bitterman, as Shylock, is so particularly powerful the he solicits a range of sympathy. From shamed admiration and emulation to even an elusively masculine sexuality, his fierce, eloquent defense is compelling. Melanie Hall and Danielle Surrette are a delightfully corrupt Betty and Veronica of the Hamptons, garnishing the stage with their flavored energy. Smartly cast, all the actors weigh in with skill and precision. Jonathan Goldstein, as the title character, deftly walks the line of a hero that isn't. Christopher Northrup's Bassanio salts L.A. culture with accuracy. His sidekick, Dan Etheridge as Gratiano, is a peppered Jimmy Durante for the '90's. Rob D'Entremont is easy to swallow as Lorenzo and Mark Lifrieri carefully complements as a modern chorus. None of the technical elements interfere with the clear direction of the concept. David Holcomb's set is bare but functional, as Perry Ash's costumes are smooth and accurate. However, Dan Reeds' lighting is quite creative. Without color, he angles the beams from the side and back to thereaten the tenuous mood of this new classic.
    -Reed Jordan, 1997 DramaLogue

    Although evidence suggests that Shakespeare clearly inetended Shylock, the avaricious and stereotypically Jewish moneylender from The Merchant of Venice, to be a villain, modern productions tend to turn him into the play's tragic hero. In his retelling of the comedy, writer-director Todd Alcott goes one step further. Here, "the Jew" is the only sympatehetic character on the stage -- and this means that by the end you actually find yourself rooting for Adam Bitterman's wise, cynical and, at times, heartbreaking Shylock to slice the "pound of flesh" (if not much more) from his enemy Antonio (Jonathan Goldstein).

    Adapter Alcott follows Shakespeare's basic plot precisely, while jettisoning the original verse for his jazzy, breezy contemporary language. It's a risky decision which has mixed results; at first, the production seems pompous, since we're left with the impression that the adapter arrogantly considers himself on a par with the Bard. However, as the piece unflolds, Alcott demonstrates a powerful gift for language, and the glib, bracing quality of the dialogue amplifies the play's underlying themes of brutality, hostilty and bigotry. Still, while the ensemble's performances are rich in adroitly executed personality and depth, Alcott is not able to make the play's protagonists worth redeeming -- something Shakespeare does effortlessly.
    - Paul Birchall, 1997 LA Weekly

    This Sacred Fools production achieves a great deal. Writer Todd Alcott has taken Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and made it his own. Using the same story and the same characters, he's written a lively, engaging play that takes no prisoners. Often, the anti-Semitism of Merchant is downplayed, glossed over; Alcott's adaptation throws it in your face. But he doesn't judge his characters; instead, he puts them on the stage, ugliness and all, and lets us decide for ourselves. Alcott directs as well, and that's where the play becomes a bit frayed. The staging is both stiff and frenetic, and important moments in the play aren't given the time they deserve. Lost in the shuffle are some good performances: Portia (Melanie Hall) and Nerissa (Danielle Surrette), for example, are quite energetic and fun, but in the frenzy one often can't hear what they're saying, and the performances get blurry. In the quieter scenes, however, Hall is impressive. Even the show's two standout performances -- Jonathan Goldstein as the world-weary Antonio, and Adam Bitterman's Shylock, bristling with anger and pain -- would be helped by an occasional downshift in pace Gerald McClanahan and Vince DonVito are hilarious as the rejected suitors Morocco and Aragon, respectively. Bassanio (Christoipher Northrup) and his pals Gratiano (Dan Etheridge) and Lorenzo (Rob d'Entremont), on the other hand, are charmless and irritating. Rounding out the cast with respectable performances are Grace Renn and Jessica and Mark Lifrieri as Salerio. David Holcomb's set is very minimal, which works well with Dan Reed's stark, haunting lighting design. In all it's a good production -- so let us savor it a bit more and slow it down, guys.

    - Alan Clark, 1997 Backstage West

Awards Page

1997 DramaLogue Awards
For Outstanding Acheivement in Theatre
award_trophy2.gif (893 bytes) WRITING - Todd Alcott