It's not too late to see The Merchant of Venice. ChiIL Mama
checked out opening night on the 15th and it was an absolute treat
to see Oscar winner, F. Murray Abraham, in action as Shylock. There
were some compelling choices in costuming and set design which
fused the old and new, to give this staging a contemporary look
without sacrificing the flow and beauty of Shakespearean language.
Timeless themes of racism, greed, revenge, love, parental control
and loss of control, lust and fidelity were all skillfully brought
I spent intermission talking with an English teacher/mom who
brought her two children (7 & 11) for their first taste of live
Shakespeare. The kids were hangin' in there, but The Merchant
of Venice is conceptually a lot to handle (even for many of the so
called "adults" in the audience). It's not as accessible or kid
friendly as A Midsummer Nights Dream or Macbeth, with bright
costumes, sword fights, witches and mythical creatures.
I had debated bringing one or both of my kids, and narrowly
decided not to. Hers were so close in age to mine that I wanted to
get their take on things. Her 7 year old daughter was a bit bored
and confused and basically said she was having trouble following
the plot, which I think would have happened with my 2nd grade
daughter, too. Yuppies in suits and grown ups talking and talking
are challenging to 7 year olds, even when they're speaking modern
Their 11 year old son was enjoying the hip hop, gangster
archetype of Launcelot Gobbo, played by Jacob Ming-Trent. He also
liked the gold, silver and lead "caskets", set up as a test for
Portia's suitors, which were reinvented as 3 silver Mac Book Pro
Computers. As each potential husband chose one, a large screen
sprang to life on the wall with graphics and an ominous booming
We had a great chat about introducing Shakespeare to kids
through some fantastic children's books by Bruce Coville, including
his version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. He also includes
Shakespearean themes and references without the language barrier,
in his Magic Shop series.
I also highly recommended Chicago Shakespeare Theatre to them.
We just took both of our kids to see their Short Shakespeare
production of Macbeth, and it was a hit with everyone. They
abridged it, for a shorter run time a fast pace, but did not
compromise the original language or intent. You can check out
our review HERE.
This particular family spent 8 hours on Amtrak to spend spring
break in Chicago, and were making the most of their theatre
immersion vacation. The day before, they'd been to Ethan Frome at
My kids' first live Shakespeare was an outdoor production of A
Midsummer Night's Dream, two years ago, which they adored. Everyone
sat outside on a grassy hill, and a friend of ours was in the cast.
We prepped by reading several kid friendly versions of the story
before hand, so the kids knew the plot line and wouldn't be lost
and frustrated. That way they could ask questions during the books
and not interrupt the play with loud protests of "I don't get it."
It was a pleasurable introduction where setting and the
outrageous costumes made grasping the line by line dialogue less
Of course, every child matures with different timing and every
parent has their own meter for what they are comfortable taking
their kids to and what they think their children can handle.
Certainly there are great teachable moments in The Merchant of
Venice about racism, classism, revenge, sexism, logic and wit.
Older children will also catch the hints of homosexuality,
threats of infidelity and cross dressing. They may get a kick out
of learning that back in the playwright's day, all the actors were
men, so the turnabouts Shakespeare is renowned for were even
more convoluted. Shakespearean plays are full of men, playing
women, pretending to dress as men. I'd be less concerned,
personally, with tweens or teens picking up on inappropriate
innuendos and actions than with the difficult language factor.
It's a fine line between taking kids to things that they may not
love, but that are educational for them, and boring them out of
interest in things. I'm all for not condescending or dumbing things
down for kids. It's a mind expanding experience for a child to see
Oscar winning performers, while sitting in red velvet seats, among
gold gilt trappings, even if some of the show goes over their
heads. I have absolute admiration for parents who want to bring the
full experience of live theatre in an ornate downtown theatre to
I've seen a number of "modernized" productions of various works
by Shakespeare and some certainly work better than others. I
think this one's a bit challenging for younger children, but
enjoyed it myself. All of the actors were a pleasure to watch. The
set design and costume choices made classic characters intriguing
and relevant, recast as today's power elite. Check it out through
Dates : March 15, 2011 - March 27, 2011
Cost: $25 to $80.
GROUPS OF 15 OR MORE ON SALE NOW!
CALL (312) 977-1710
Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a writer-photographer-potter-painter-actress-animal wrangler-general creatrix and Mama to two amazing kiddos.
See more of Bonnie's stories here.
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