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BHS students stage 'Merchant'

Performance marks 22nd year school has brought the Bard's work to life

The young thespians of Bethlehem High School will once again this winter bring the work of Shakespeare to life on their auditorium stage, this time tackling a difficult, controversial and much lauded play.

A cast of 27, along with dozens of other students working behind the scenes, will stage The Merchant of Venice in eight showings over the course of two weeks. This will be the 22nd consecutive year a theater group has performed a Shakespeare play. Last year, a cast of 32 put on "As You Like It."

Likewise, this will be Director James Yeara's 21st Shakespearean production at BHS. Every June, he presents students with a list of Shakespeare plays to choose from for their production the coming year, and he said "Merchant" is frequently near the top of the list.

"The Merchant of Venice" is a well-known Shakespeare comedy taking place in the city of its name. It focuses on Shylock, a Jewish moneylender and two young nobles named Bassanio and Antonion, the latter of whom serves as guarantor for the latter on a loan from Shylock that is needed to court Portia, the play's female lead.

Yeara has chosen to stage the play in Venice, 1931, a time of great strife for Italy, during the carnival season. The illusion is benefited by backdrops created by the school's art students.

The play in modernity is considered controversial by some given Shylock's role, and scholars still argue Shakespeare's intent today. Some believe the events of the play to be an antisemitic barb, while others believe the poor treatment Shylock is eventually subjected to is an argument for tolerance.

Indeed, Yeara said some of his colleagues have outright refused to see the play (while others have been asking him to do it for years). Students, however, routinely support the work in the annual play election, and Yeara said he's confident in their ability to view it with a critical eye.

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