Mercer Players’ “Merchant” brings troubling comedy to Back Door stage

The Mercer Players kicked off this year’s season with their production of Shakespeare’s comedic romance, “The Merchant of Venice”.
Directed by Scot Mann, the cast and crew pieced together this work of theatrical art in a span of four weeks. The performances were held in Mercer’s Back Door Theatre, which made for an intimate setting. This was a new Macon thespian experience for me. I had never seen a Mercer Players’ performance in their black box space.
I was immediately won over by the ambiance. Walking into the theatre, audience members were greeted by Renaissance music to set the mood. The visual effect of the set also helped to create a Shakespearean atmosphere.
The set, designed by Marian Zielinski, a professor of theatre at Mercer, utilized the small stage space to its maximum potential. There were varying dimensions created by the design of the set, from the angles of the walls to the levels of the floor. The lighting design also created visual depth. While the set was not elaborate in detail, it was extremely effective, as the show did not call for anything more extensive. It was a calm set, easy to look at due to the simplicity of the props. This also made for quick and efficient scene changes.
The costumes, designed by Shelley Kuhen, Mercer’s Theatre Costume Director, were beautifully detailed and complemented the neutral colors of the set with their own vibrant colors. There were a few cases of unnaturally bright makeup, but these did not sway the success of the show.
For the unfamiliar theatre-goer, Mann gave a brief summary of the show’s plot in the program and commented on Shakespeare’s “genius” use of language to create this comedy, cleverly intertwined with troubling character issues.
It was evident that the cast had an impressive understanding of the story. The majority of actors had fantastic delivery. In some cases, lines would be directed upstage, but this was only at the sacrifice of facial expressions, as the lines could still be heard due to the small space. It was evident that there were varying levels of acting abilities, and as a whole, the cast put together an impressive performance.
Notable performances were those of relationships between characters, specifically of the three sets of lovers. Each performer had something commendable about his or her performance. Lindsey Mouchet stood out with her portrayal of the Jew, Shylock. She gave an incredible performance of a complex character, with a consistent and engaging stage presence, using both impressive comedic timing as well as honest moments of humanity. Mouchet used numerous character gestures, from stroking her beard to her hunched posture, to create a convincing and entertaining performance.
Antonio the merchant, portrayed by Patrick Hamilton, and Bassanio, Antonio’s friend portrayed by Liam McDermott, both spoke well and utilized natural gestures, making their delivery and presentations easy to understand.
Overall, the cast demonstrated obvious hard work and gave a consistently entertaining performance, a sign of a successful Shakespeare production.
Mann also explained in the program that they were “attempting to tell the comic love story that makes it a comedy without masking the spiritual and mortal warts that blemish the heroes.” The Mercer Players can be proud that they achieved their goal and more, successfully kicking off their theatre season.