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TC JEWFOLK: ‘The Moneylender’s Daughter’ Brings Heart, Agony To The Stage

Updated: Mar 8

March 7, 2024

In the storied list of William Shakespeare’s characters, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice proved to be among the most controversial. The play, written around 423 years, ends with Shylock, the Jewish moneylender, being stripped of his wealth and forced to convert to Christianity. The character is filled with stereotypes of greed and vengefulness.

Robert Dorfman as Shylock and Shana Eisenberg as Jessica in "The Moneylender's Daughter." (Photo by Sarah Whiting)

This is where Martin Coren comes in; he wrote the second part of Shylock’s story – The Moneylender’s Daughter which is having its world premiere at Six Points Theater through March 17. The play picks up the story of Shylock’s daughter, Jessica (Shana Eisenberg) and new her husband, Lorenzo (Paul LaNave), after Jessica’s conversion to Christianity in The Merchant of Venice. Shylock (Robert Dorfman), returns to Venice after a year to the shock of his daughter. 

Here’s the good thing: you don’t need to have seen The Merchant of Venice to understand the sequel. Enough of the history is helpfully woven through the show’s early scenes. Coren’s script allows Shylock to explain why he got into the business he did: “In Venice, all doors are closed to Jews,” he tells his daughter.

While excellently written and acted, the play is difficult to watch – in part because of lines like that. Blunt, angry antisemitism punctuates the entire show, although it certainly fits with the era. 

One of the things that hits you at the end of the scenes is the uncomfortable quiet as the auditorium darkens.

But while that feeling is unnerving, it’s completely appropriate. But despite the discomfort that the audience has to sit in, there’s plenty the show has plenty of heart. The dialogue – antisemitic or not – is snappy and at times, incredibly humorous. The banter between Shylock and his former servant turned servant of Jessica and Lorenzo, Launcelot (Neal Skoy) was fantastic, the animosity between the two incredibly palpable. 

The breaking of the fourth wall smirks from Dorfman’s Shylock set the tone for their scenes early. “There may be more truth in a smile than all the speech every spoken,” Launcelot said. 

Launcelot (Neal Skoy) and Shylock (Robert Dorfman) having a moment in a scene from “The Moneylender’s Daughter.” (Photo by Sarah Whiting).

In the case of Shylock, it’s entirely possible that’s the case. For Dorfman, this is a return to the role of Shylock after playing the character at the Guthrie Theater’s production of The Merchant of Venice. I don’t know if he played the character’s the same, or if time and circumstance required something different. But Dorfman brought an impressive level of physicality to the role, stooping over, shuffling across the stage, or hitting Launcelot with a very large edition of the Bible.

The fifth character in the show is the imposing Antonio (Tony Larkin), the titular Merchant of Venice in the original play, turned Duke of Venice in this show. As Larkin said about his character in a Six Points Video, “As much as he believes he’s a very devout Christian, his antisemitism is so deeply ingrained because of his time, because of his culture, because of his faith, that he’s not even aware of how he’s treating the Jewish community in his life.”

Shylock helps him to understand that. Whether he believes it or not is a different conversation, but there is a sense that maybe, Antonio softens his stance on Jews in 1500s Venice. It’s a more than 400-year-old story with a feeling that it could be happening right now. With only a week left in its run, it’s a worthy way to spend an evening at the theater.


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