UW-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts Mainstage Theatre
April 22 – May 8, 2005
“Johnny Lee Davenport, who is African-American, will play Shylock. [Director David] Chambers said he was not seeking a black man to play the role.
‘I look for the best actor for the job, and Johnny was that. He was not chosen for his color, but he has brought a lot of gravitas and power to the character that I think our culture will strongly recognize.’
Chambers said he is not aware of any other African-American having played Shylock in the past.”
—Damien Jaques, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (April 10, 2005)
“Chambers pushes the play toward edgy boundaries, employs wildly fun and in-your-face designs, shifts our perception of Shylock by a few degrees, and elicits a stirring performance of striking clarity and sublime beauty.
A theme underlies all of this. Renaissance Venice was flourishing, and a group of young Christian men were the beneficiaries of the good economic times. The affluence bred arrogance, intolerance and selfish excess.
Moral decay was ripening. Baiting an older Jewish moneylender was accepted sport.
Frame ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in this milieu, and the motivations behind the story’s characters become real and rational. Shylock’s insistence on taking a pound of Christian flesh rather than money for default on a loan is the revenge of an embittered man.
His famous ‘Hath not a Jew eyes?’ speech is not a plea for sympathy or even understanding but a declaration of vengeance. Asserting that Jews can be just as heartless as Christians, he says, ‘The villainy you teach me I will execute.’
It’s a statement of empowerment, and the well-spoken Johnny Lee Davenport plays Shylock with a physical energy and vigor rarely seen in the character. ‘Merchant’ snaps into focus as a play about bullying — on both sides of the conflict.”
—Damien Jaques, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (April 24, 2005)
“There’s a lot to like about Milwaukee Shakespeare’s ambitious production of ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ Johnny Lee Davenport’s portrayal of Shylock is stunning, bringing energy and passion to a character who is often (erroneously) played as a shambling, embittered old man.”
—Laura Williams, OnMilwaukee.com (May 5, 2005)
On the loss of Milwaukee Shakespeare
“[Artistic Director Paula] Suozzi even lured Yale theater professor David Chambers, who has directed at many of the country’s most respected regional theaters and in Europe, to stage ‘The Merchant of Venice.’ Here is a sentence from my April 24, 2005, review of that production:
‘Chambers pushes the play toward edgy boundaries, employs wildly fun and in-your-face designs, shifts our perception of Shylock by a few degrees, and elicits a stirring performance of striking clarity and sublime beauty.’
His ‘Merchant’ was among the most memorable theater pieces I have seen in the past decade.”
—Damien Jaques, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (November 1, 2008)