Theater Breaking Through Barriers (TBTB), the Off-Broadway company known for its productions that integrate able-bodied actors with artists with disabilities, presents William Shakespeare's THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre (410 West 42nd Street) through tonight, May 13. Ike Schambelan, TBTB artistic director and founder, directs.
Theater Breaking Through Barriers' take on Shakespeare's classic THE MERCHANT OF VENICE is performed in one hour and forty minutes with no intermission, with seven actors, including five with disabilities. A comedy about 4 contracts and 4 outcasts, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE follows a Christian merchant and his relationship with a Jewish moneylender. The contracts deal with flesh, rings, caskets, and livery; and the play asks how you respond to a broken deal: with justice or mercy.
Artistic Director Ike Schambelan states, "'Merchant' is usually seen as a play dealing with anti-Semitism. We think it's about otherness in general since in addition to a Jew, it has a Muslim, a Hispanic, and a blind man — the blind scene is almost always cut." All four of the "others" will be played by one actor, Nicholas Viselli, showing the parallels of prejudice based on race, religion, and disability in a multicultural society that's an international trading center. Be it Venice in 1600 or NYC now, it's a place where cultures clash and conflicts ensue.
The ensemble of THE MERCHANT OF VENICE includes TBTB company members and newcomers, Mary Theresa Archbold, Melanie Boland, Stephen Drabicki, David Harrell, Gregg Mozgala, Pamela Sabaugh, and Nicholas Viselli.
In addition to new works and revivals, Theater Breaking Through Barriers has presented Shakespeare's HAMLET, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, and ROMEO AND JULIET, each with small ensembles of four to six actors doubling several roles. Regarding the company's production of HAMLET, the New York Times wrote in its review: "Actors who show signs of having actually analyzed Shakespeare's language. The audience can understand the meaning of every word. This is a scaled-down HAMLET, with a cast of six playing multiple roles. An admirable, often intriguing production…under the lively direction of Ike Schambelan. The language is Elizabethan, but other elements are contemporary. Small but punchy contemporary touches include the gravediggers' Amstel beer, the gun that Laertes holds on the royal couple and the Actors' Equity cards that dangle from the tote bags of the traveling theater troupe. During the 'To be, or not to be' speech, Hamlet (Nicholas Viselli) considers a prescription-pill bottle."
The production features set and lighting design by Bert Scott; costumes by Kristine Koury; and props by Segoline Lazzaro. Brooke Elsinghorst is Stage Manager and Nicholas Lazzaro is Production Manager. Christina Roussos is Assistant Director.
Ike Schambelan has been a theatrical director, teacher and critic for over 45 years. He has a bachelor's degree from Swarthmore College and a Doctor of Fine Arts from Yale Drama School. He has directed at the Long Wharf Theatre, the Manhattan Theatre Club, Playwrights Horizons, The New Dramatists, Equity Library Theatre, the Pittsburgh Public Theater and the George Street Playhouse; and has directed many productions for TBTB. As founder and Artistic Director of TBTB, he has built it for more than 30 years into an Off-Broadway company recognized for doing first-class work. Previous productions include revivals of works by Shakespeare, Shaw and Gurney and new plays, including NY premieres of THE RULES OF CHARITY and A NERVOUS SMILE by disabled playwright John Belluso, the recent world premiere of Kate Moira Ryan's BASS FOR PICASSO, and part of last year's SOME OF OUR PARTS, an evening of short plays by Neil LaBute, Samuel D. Hunter, Diana Son, Bekah Brunstetter, Kate Moira Ryan, Jeff Tabnick and Emily Chadwick Weiss.