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The Merchant of Venice

Karin Coonrod | Compagnia de' Colombari

Karin Coonrod is “an artist of far-reaching inventiveness.”—The New York Times

Karin Coonrod “looks for the flash in the actors’ eyes and listens for the music of the audience.” Now this internationally acclaimed director brings her groundbreaking production of Shakespeare’s most controversial play, The Merchant of Venice, to the US. Coonrod first staged this thorny masterpiece in 2016 in its original setting, the Jewish ghetto of Venice, to mark the 500th anniversary of its creation. Five actors of different races, creeds, nationalities, and genders play Shylock, the iconic Jewish moneylender at the center of the play. According to Coonrod, “these five actors, all of them very different, open up the play in a way that is both Jewish and universal.”





Guide to “The Merchant of Venice” for Young People
Montclair State University student and student dramaturgy apprentice Alyssa Korman prepared this guide to Compagnia de’ Colombari’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” for students, with guidance from production dramaturg Davina Moss. Learn more about the company, the plot, the commedia dell’arte style used in the production, questions about anti-Semitism that have surrounded the play for centuries, the director’s point of view, and more. The discussion questions posed are terrific for parents and children, teachers and students, or anyone interested in learning more about the play. Click here to download.

The following events are free and open to the public.

Art & Society: Venice as a Metaphor for the World
Tuesday, September 26 @ 6:30 p.m.
Alexander Kasser Theater
Teresa Fiore, Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at Montclair State, leads a discussion with Karin Coonrod, director of The Merchant of Venice, and Alessandro Cassin, Deputy Director of Centro Primo Levi in New York, on otherness, immigration, and religion. Presented in collaboration with the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies.

Community Conversation
Saturday, September 30, post-performance
Alexander Kasser Theater
Join Karin Coonrod to share reflections and responses immediately following the performance of The Merchant of Venice.



karin coonrodKarin Coonrod founded the downtown theater ensemble Arden Party (1987–97), and the international Compagnia de’ Colombari (2004–present), based in Orvieto, Italy, and New York City. She has directed at the New York Shakespeare Festival/ Public Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Theatre for a New Audience, La MaMa, BAM/Next Wave Festival, Classic Stage Company, American Repertory Theater, Folger Theatre, Hartford Stage. Notable productions include Shakespeare’s Henry VI, King John, Love’s Labor’s Lost, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Tempest and The Merchant of Venice; the American premiere of Vitrac’s Victor, or Children Take Over; Monteverdi’s Orfeo; and the world premiere of Visky’s I Killed My Mother. She has staged Flannery O’Connor’s short stories (Everything That Rises Must Converge), Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” (retitled More or Less I Am ); and her own texts&beheadings/ElizabethR. The New York Times called her “prodigiously inventive” and the New York Observer hailed her “clear-eyed imaginative intelligence.” She was artist-in-residence at Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Fordham, University of Iowa, and California Institute of the Arts and is on the faculty of Yale School of Drama.

frank londonFrank London is a Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer, founder of the Klezmatics and leader of the bhangra/Yiddish group Sharabi (with Deep Singh), Shekhinah Big Band, and his Klezmer Brass Allstars. He’s been called the “mystical high priest of New Wave Avant-Klez jazz” (All About Jazz). London has more than 40 recordings of his own music; is featured on more than 400 CDs; and has performed and recorded with John Zorn, Karen O, Itzhak Perlman, Pink Floyd, LL Cool J, Mel Tormé, Lester Bowie, LaMonte Young, LaMonte Young, They Might Be Giants, David Byrne, Jane Siberry, Ben Folds 5, and Mark Ribot. No stranger to large-scale collaborative projects, his works include the folk-opera A Night In The Old Marketplace (based on Y.L. Peretz’s 1907 play), the multi-media dance/poetry/video Salomé, Woman of Valor (with Adeena Karasick), Davenen for Pilobolus Dance Theater, Great Small Works’ The Memoirs Of Gluckel Of Hameln and Min Tanaka’s Romance. His first symphony, 1001 Voices: A Symphony for Queens (text – Judith Sloan, video – Warren Lehrer) for orchestra, chorus, soloists, tabla, erhu, narrator, actors and film premiered in 2012. Green Violin, a collaboration with Elise Thoron based on Chagall’s paintings for the Soviet Yiddish theater, won the Barrymore Prize for Best New Musical and has been performed in Russia, Holland, and the US.



pdf program peak performances


In The News

BEN BRANTLEY, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Reinventing Shakespeare, According to the Gospel of Joseph Papp”
“Among the dynamic heirs to [Papp’s] sensibility is Karin Coonrod … This month she brings her very multicultural, world-traveling version of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ to Peak Performances at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J. First staged in what was once the Jewish ghetto in Venice, this production from Ms. Coonrod’s Compagnia de’ Colombari addresses the ever-knotty problem of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, by filling the role with not one, but five, performers of varying ages, genders, nationalities and ethnicities.”

SHAUL BASSI, THE NEW YORK TIMES: “Shylock and Othello in the Time of Xenophobia”
“When my university brought ‘The Merchant of Venice’ to the Ghetto of Venice for the first time in history last year, a question was frequently asked: ‘Why an anti-Semitic play in a place of Jewish segregation and suffering, the very site where the word “ghetto” comes from?’ The answer: ‘Because we, the real Jews of Venice, are not afraid of Shylock, our secret sharer; we loathe him, but he can help us think about anti-Semitism.’”

STEPHEN GREENBLATT, THE NEW YORKER: “Shakespeare’s Cure for Xenophobia: What ‘The Merchant of Venice’ Taught Me About Ethnic Hatred and the Literary Imagination”
“There is something very strange about experiencing ‘The Merchant of Venice’ when you are somehow imaginatively implicated in the character and actions of its villain. … [I decided] I wouldn’t attempt to hide my otherness and pass for what I was not. I wouldn’t turn away from works that caused me pain as well as pleasure. Instead, insofar as I could, I would pore over the whole vast, messy enterprise of culture as if it were my birthright.”

GWEN OREL, MONTCLAIR LOCAL: “Bringing the Other Back Home”
“Who is playing Shylock? It’s the first question asked about any new production of Shakespeare’s 1596 play ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ For [director Karin] Coonrod, casting the role with people of different ethnicities and genders was a way to ‘open up the character to be Jewish and universal.'”

THE ARTS DESK: “Shylock Comes Home”
“By removing Shylock’s individuality, the company acknowledged his status as symbolic, not only of Jews in the Renaissance period but of the outsider more generally and always.”

JEWISH RENAISSANCE: “Shylock Triumphs”
“An ambitious and bold production of what is arguably Shakespeare’s most controversial play by the joint forces of the Compagnia de’ Colombari and Ca’ Foscari University of Venice brings together an international cast performing in several languages and styles in the heart of the Jewish ghetto, lending a symbolism and interpretation impossible elsewhere.”


Programs in Peak Performances’ 2017-18 season are made possible in part by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.