Arts& Ideas: A Post-Modern 'Merchant Of Venice' And Kaki King

Internationally renowned post-modern theater artist Karin Coonrod says she knows “there’s no ghetto in this play. It’s something people rush to tell me, that I know already.”

Yet Coonrod, in a phone interview earlier this month, explains that the controversial character of Shylock in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” “would have been a resident of the Venetian Ghetto” where Jews were forced to live.

Coonrod’s open-air adaptation of “The Merchant of Venice” spreads the role of Shylock among five of her production’s 15 cast members, whom she distinguishes as “The Merchant,” “The Father,” “The Mother,” “The Widower” and “The Killer.” Besides the actors, there are also six live musicians and a crew of eight “black angels.”

The show, created by Coonrod with her Compagnia de’ Colombari theater company, was originally staged in 2016 on the site of the Venetian Ghetto to mark the 500th anniversary of the ghetto’s creation and the 400th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. The production was seen in Montclair, N.J., last year and now is being staged as part of the 2018 Arts & Ideas festival in New Haven. The venue for the play this time — the courtyard of the Yale Law School —underscores the fraught trial scene at the end of the play.

“I’ve always been terrified of this play for its incendiary reputation,” Coonrod says. “I wanted to talk about the comedy in it. The play is referred to as a comedy. It starts as a comedy. It doesn’t end as a comedy. Shakespeare plays with the labels. It’s badass. There, I said it.

“This is a very mean play. Everybody in it wants to win. It’s very moving. It’s a wake-up play, a warning, a call to consciousness.”

“The Merchant of Venice” plays June 19 to 23 in the Yale Law School Courtyard, 127 Wall St., New Haven. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 and $65.

Other highlights of the second full week of the 2018 International Festival of Arts & Ideas:

“A Billion Nights on Earth,” a dreamy, spectacle-filled family-friendly theater event created by Thaddeus Phillips and Steven Dufala, June 14 to 16 at the Yale University Theatre, 222 York St., New Haven. $35 and $55.

Free concerts on New Haven Green, including Music of the East & West With Aaron Larget-Caplan at 6:30 p.m. June 14; singer-songwriter Ruth B (7 p.m. June 16); and Iraqi-American trumpeter Amir Elsaffar with members of the Rivers of Sound Orchestra and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra (4 p.m. on June 17).

The continuation of the Yale International Choral Festival at various locations on the Yale campus ($35), culminating with a free gala concert at 6 p.m. June 16 in Yale’s Woolsey Hall, 168 Grove St., New Haven.

Flashy guitarist and storyteller Kaki King June 20 at 8 p.m. at Morse Recital Hall. $35 and $55.

Connecticut artist Martha Willette Lewis leading a tour through her own installation “I’ll Be Your Qubit,” which was developed through discussions with quantum physicists during a year-long residency.

Indoor concerts at churches on or near New Haven Green, as part of the Altar’d Spaces series, among them Zikina at 7:30 p.m. on June 14 at Trinity Church; and The Meadows Brothers at 5:30 p.m. on June 20 at United Church. $10.

The popular annual Box City urban-development family crafts project on New Haven Green from noon to 4 p.m. June 16 and 17.

Numerous talks on such diverse topics as “Refugee Resettlement — A Noble American Tradition Under Attack” (5:30 p.m. on June 14 at Yale University Art Gallery) and “The Act You’ve Known For All These Years: Deconstructing “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (5:30 p.m. on June 20 at the Yale Center for British Art).

Bike and walking tours, including a free Peeking Into New Haven’s Closet: LGBTQ+ History Walking Tour at 1:30 p.m. on June 17 starting at the New Haven Pride Center.

A full schedule of the dozens of Arts & Ideas events can be found in booklet form at the festival’s information booth, or online at artidea.org.

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