A fresh and poignant look at the story of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice is now on stage at Boston Court Pasadena with the world premiere of Sarah B. Mantell’s Everything That Never Happened.
Mantell has taken four characters from the play and told their stories, in the case of Jessica and Shylock, from the perspective of Jews living in the Venice ghettos of the 1500’s where gates locked at sunset Christian guards stood watch. Young Jessica lives with her moneylender father, Shylock, and his manservant Gobbo in the Jewish ghetto. She has secretly met and fallen in love with a handsome Christian boy named Lorenzo. The couple has devised a plan of escape whereby Jessica slips out of the ghetto under cover of night and disguise and gives up her religion and culture to be together living in freedom.
Mantell’s play beautifully fleshes out these characters while delving into the meaning of one’s heritage, history, shame and tradition. The character of Jessica especially feels timely as she begins to question what she has given up and realizes how deep her love for her father truly is. Mantell doesn’t exactly answer these questions but boldly explores them giving the audience much to ponder. She weaves the story with prose that feels whimsically romantic but is surprisingly minimalist which makes for some delightfully playful moments as well as emotionally devastating ones.
Erika Soto is a vivacious and headstrong Jessica giving a lighthearted energy to her scenes with Lorenzo and an aching sadness to her moments with Shylock. The devoted Gobbo is played with a sense of stalwart decency by a sweetly disheveled Dylan Saunders. Paul Culos is engaging as the young Lorenzo, making you fall in love with him just as Jessica has yet keeping a bit of mystery to where you don’t quite know if you can trust him. Leo Marks is a deeply conflicted Shylock, caught in a battle between his love for his daughter and a culture that is ingrained in him. It’s a stellar ensemble of four that fills the sparsely beautiful François-Pierre Couture set, taking us through the streets and docks of old Venice; a fascinating trip that gives new life and meaning to the life of Shakespeare’s merchant.
Everything That Never Happened continues through November 4, 2018 at Boston Court Pasadena located at 70 N Mentor Ave. Pasadena, CA 91106.
Tickets, priced from $20 – $39, are available at BostonCourtPasadena.org or by calling 626.683.6801. This world premiere is made possible, in part, through a grant from the Fishman Family Foundation.