IF YOU GO
What: "The Merchant of Venice."
When: 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 12; 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Feb. 13-14.
Where: Jewish Cultural Center, 5461 North Terrace.
Admission: $10 adults, $8 seniors/students.
Though written and set in the Elizabethan era, "The Merchant of Venice" offers characters who may look very familiar, said the director of a new production of the William Shakespeare tragic comedy opening Sunday at the Jewish Cultural Center.
"It's a very modern look at human beings," said Shakespeare Chattanooga founder and producing director Janis Hashe.
Audience members will see some characters who are hypocrites, manipulators and, in general, shallow people. The connection to people today with similar characteristics automatically will be made in their mind, she said.
The play, co-sponsored by the Jewish Cultural Center, is seen as one of Shakespeare's most challenging and controversial because of themes that may seem anti-Semitic.
"There is controversy among Shakespeare scholars about what Shakespeare meant with Shylock," a Jewish money lender in the play, said Hashe. There is uncertainty whether he was "intending to present the stereotype of a money-lending Jew," but there were not many Jews in England at that time.
"Shakespeare called it a comedy, but it's difficult for modern audiences to see it as [one]."
Hashe said no character in the play is completely likable, and there is tension throughout.
"Each director has to interpret Shakespeare's intent based on what they've read," she said, "and what they know about his plays."
Characters in the Shakespeare Chattanooga version will be in modern dress. In addition, the characters of servants in the original version will be viewed as text messages, and jack-of-all-trades characters will be presented as paparazzi.
"We're looking at the text from a modern standpoint," she said.
Hashe said she hopes that interpretation will help facilitate the audience's understanding of the play.
"Language [in Shakespeare plays] in and of itself is quite a barrier," she said. "Once [the audience] gets into a rhythm, though, that tends to go away. So it's [additionally] complicated if they are strutting around in hose and ruffs. Shakespeare [fans] will love it no matter what."
The Jewish Federation will hold a panel discussion on anti-Semitism at 7 p.m. Thursday, preceding the play. Panel members will include a representative from the Anti-Defamation League, a sociology professor, a law enforcement official and a longtime Chattanooga resident.
Audience talk-backs with the cast and director will follow the performances Sunday and Feb. 12.
Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...