REVIEW: DISTRICT MERCHANTS
at Miners Alley Playhouse
by Devon James
“If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? (Shylock) ― William Shakespeare, “Merchant of Venice.” To me, this quote is about the equality of humanity. Regardless of our background, religion, circumstance, we are all the same. We are all human, and for me, this is at the heart of this particular piece of theatre.
Aaron Posner’s newest play, DISTRICT MERCHANTS is a reconstruction of “The Merchant of Venice.” Posner has set it in post-Civil War Washington, DC, and during a time in America when we were truly in a rebuilding stage of progression. There’s reference to how far we will have had to evolve since the 1870’s, but clearly a bit “tongue and cheek,” considering our current political and moral climate we still live in today. In this play, no one is off limits. Posner throws hits at everyone from the Jews, to the Blacks, Irish, rich, and poor. This is a story of equality from the mind of a contemporary Playwright, the heart of Shakespeare, and a style reminiscent of a traveling theatre troupe. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and there are certainly some places that could be edited, but overall received like a joke that has some serious validity. For some, it may be “too soon” to somewhat mock the absurdity of our times. While others, it is clear the message just flies right over their head.
Miners Alley Playhouse’s production and Len Matheo’s Direction is a tight, fun, and lived in production. Miners is only the third Company to have the rights to produce this play, making this a Regional Premiere for Colorado. Posner called this an “uneasy comedy,” and this production certainly achieved this vision. There were some incredibly honest and raw moments within several relationships in the play. Through these relationships, the audience gets directed and personal insight into their versions of the circumstance surrounding them. This writing technique allows us to simultaneously get a glimpse of perspective from numerous characters, and therefore allows the audience more opportunity for empathy and connection. This technique is especially helpful when we’re dealing with sensitive topics like, race, religion, politics, moral, etc. This leaves less to the imagination, and gives us firm, validation as to what is happening within the brain of the opposition.
There is a wide variety of fresh faces mixed with some seasoned Denver theatre veterans, like Chris Kendall (Shylock). Kristina Fountaine, (Nessa) is one of the new “stand out” performers. Her style may flounder on the side of contemporary in comparison to her cast mates, but her timing and sincerity bring much of the humor throughout the production. This Denver native is just beginning to share her work, and I have a feeling other Companies will be adopting her in the years to come. Both our leading ladies, Candice Joice (Portia), and Amy Elizabeth Gray (Jessica) portray some very heart-felt, raw, and complicated emotional dilemmas with grace and upmost sincerity. Joice has the opportunity to show some range within Portia’s circumstance, and some of her realizations throughout the play bring about some of the major personal questions the audience experiences. With great support of the other men, Chris Davenport (Antoine Dupree), Sinjin Jones (Benjamin), Sean Michael Cummings (Finneus), and Isaiah Kelley (Lancelot), and the technical support of the rest of the Miner’s Alley team, get ready to experience an endearing and comedic moral experience.
Miner’s Alley is the perfect place to end your “date night” after a beautiful hike around Golden, a stroll through the old western town, and dinner at one of the fantastic dining options like, “Abajas.” This is genuinely one of the best places to experience intimate theatre, be treated like family, and enjoy the relaxing atmosphere of valued art.
A hilarious retelling of The Merchant of Venice in post-Civil War Washington, D.C.Miners Alley Playhouse presents DISTRICT MERCHANTS May 18 through June 24 in Golden. Performances are Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m; Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 303-935-3044 or online at www.minersalley.com. Miners Alley Playhouse is located at 1224 Washington Avenue. Golden, CO 80401.
PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Roshan