First came Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” – and, then, the world premiere of A WILDERNESS OF MONKEYS. Described as “a revenge-comedy sequel,” Carol Fisher Sorgenfrei has fashioned a tongue-in-cheek modern-day response to Shakespeare’s classic play about avarice, greed, and plain old-fashioned prejudice. Directed by Beatrice Casagran and presented by Ophelia’s Jump, a non-profit company founded nine years ago, A WILDERNESS OF MONKEYS digs into Act III of Shakespeare’s play to come up with the perfect title for this funny, satirical story updated to 2021 – but still set in Shakespeare’s Venice.
In “The Merchant of Venice,” Shakespeare told the timeless tale of Venice merchant Antonio who successfully conspired with his friends Bassanio and Lorenzo to deprive the hated Jewish moneylender Shylock of both his material goods and his daughter Jessica. And worse yet, a forced conversion to Christianity. Author Sorgenfrei begins where Shakespeare leaves off – and what a merry romp it turns out to be.
The Duke is no longer around – but his daughter has taken over the reins of government for Venice. Jews are now consigned to a ghetto and forced to wear yellow stars on their clothing – so clearly not much social awareness has transpired. A disillusioned and remorseful Jessica (Julia Stier) has returned home to papa Shylock (Aaron Pyle) after an unhappy “marriage” to Lorenzo (Judd Johnson). Soon, the two develop a plan to get even with Shylock’s Gentile tormentors. It doesn’t take long for Antonio (R.J. Balde), Bassanio (Blake McCormack), and Lorenzo to get caught up in a get-rich-quick scheme involving a very big bag of tulip bulbs. From then on, things in everyone’s financial and personal lives go steadily downhill until all find themselves back in the Duke’s Court facing updated justice.
A WILDERNESS OF MONKEYS makes excellent use of Zoom technology. Before an artful backdrop of colorful paintings and photos of Venice – and garbed in a flamboyant wardrobe of the period – the cast does a yeoman’s job of hopping into Shakespeare’s world with gusto. They seamlessly hand off items to each other while each keeps in his separate little niche. Ophelia’s Jump has outdone itself in expanding every Zoom capability in this charming play.
The production crew also deserve kudos for creating a feast for the eyes and ears. Visual designer Sheila Malone, graphic designer Caitlin Lopez, costumer Carmen Miralles, and editor Spencer Weitzel each weave an enticing background for the story. Some lively music becomes icing on the cake.
A WILDERNESS OF MONKEYS is an entertaining and appealing account which serves to bring Shakespeare into the present ethos with enchanting grace. Classic Shakespeare buffs may have some difficulty adjusting to Sorgenfrei’s interpretation – but it’s all in fun. And often hilarious.
A WILDERNESS OF MONKEYS IS A VIRTUAL Zoom presentation which premiers on Wednesday, March 17, and runs through Sunday, March 21, 2021. Wednesday through Friday, the production begins at 7 p.m. (PST). On Saturday, there are two performances at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. (PST). On Sunday, the play begins at 5 p.m. (PST). Admission is “Pay-What-You-Can.” For reservations, go online for a Zoom link.