The Merchant of Venice, Tinfish Theatre. Director Kerstin Broockmann begins her program notes by asking why anyone would want to stage this play in the 21st century. But her intelligent rendition, reset in the business-casual, technology-enabled present, goes on to prove just how relevant Shakespeare's love stories and mercenary rivalries are today. Efficiency seems to be Broockmann's watchword: the set (uncredited) of simple white flats and geometric furniture can be reconfigured between scenes, and the script has been artfully cut, eliminating whole sections and a few ancillary characters (which may disappoint purists).
Intellectually the actors are all up to their tasks. No one gets lost in the language or seems to be unsure what his or her character is thinking. But they're less convincing emotionally (with a few exceptions, like the ever animated Jason Kaplan as Gratiano). When the play begins, the loves and hatreds are already in full swing, yet we don't feel that in David Inglis's buttoned-down portrayal of Antonio or Calvin Haines's fast-talking depiction of Shylock. Thus we have no idea what would compel Antonio to risk a pound of flesh to save a friend and spite an enemy. The deep loyalty, deeper racial prejudice, and bravado don't register, so the play's whole premise seems whacked (which it is, of course, but it should feel plausible). Similarly, lovers Portia and Bassanio (Sierra Cleveland and Ryan Young), though completely believable when kissing, must smolder more convincingly throughout.