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(Posted 4:30 p.m., Nov. 28)

ENCORE! Theatre production a great twist on Shakespeare classic
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

David Hersh is a different kind of cat. The former artistic director of the Orléans Young Players Theatre School has always danced to a different drummer.

Case in point, when he appeared in a production of the Shakespearean classic "The Merchant of Venice", he was intrigued by a line in the play that suggest Shylock's daughter Jessica trades a ring she;'s stolen from her father for a monkey.

I would hazard to guess that most people who have read "A Merchant of Venice" would be hard-pressed to remember that Jessica bought a monkey with a ring, let alone that Shylock had a daughter named Jessica.

But Hersh has taken that innocuous reference and turned it into a funny and entertaining play called "Jessica's Monkey" which is being presented this weekend by the ENCORE! Theatre Company in the Black Box Theatre at the Shenkman Arts Centre.

Hersh directs the play which features the talents of James MacDougall, who was nothing short of brilliant in last year's ENCORE! Theatre production of "The Lost One", and Kat Palmer who appears in her first ENCORE! Theatre production as Jessica.

 

The ENCORE Theatre production of 'Jessica's Monkey' stars Iannick Cyr-Michaud as Mordecai, Kat Palmer as Jessica and James MacDougall as Lorenzo.. Fred Sherwin/Photo

MacDougall plays Jessica's goofball husband Lorenzo, complete with a cheesy Italian accent. The two meet by chance in the streets of Venice and their hormones immediately go into hyper drive. The fact that Jessica is Jewish and Lorenzo is Catholic does not phase the lovers one bit.

The two decide to elope and get married, but not before Jessica agrees to convert to Christianity and grab a bag full of her father's money. While all this is happening, Shylock is caught up in the drama that form's the plot line of "The Merchant of Venice".

The newlyweds spend their wedding night getting blotto in a Genoa bar where they pass out after blowing all their money. The next morning a hungover Jessica decides to buy a money from a roving salesman who enters the bar and so begins the story of Jessica's monkey.

Shylock soon learns that the couple's marriage and his daughter's conversion to Christianity, but he is too caught up in his vendetta against Antonio to get overly worked up about it.

Shylock eventually argues his case for a pound of Antonio's flesh in front of a magistrate, but he is outwitted by Portia and is ordered to hand over half his fortune to Lorenzo and Jessica and bequeath the rest of his estate to them in his will. That's where the parallels to "The Merchant of Venice" ends.

"Jessica's Monkey" picks the story up after the trial. Jessica and Lorenzo continue to live with Lorenzo's mother and the monkey, who Jessica names Mordecai. Before long they begin to run low on money again, largely because Lorenzo refuses to work for a living. But instead of getting a job, he decides to kill Shylock so they'll inherit his estate.

After they take possession of Shylock's house, Jessica buys a second money and names him Abraham. When they start to run low on money again she shames Lorenzo into finally getting a job, but he has to go abroad for months at a time. During his extended trips abroad, Jessica buys a third and fourth monkey and begins to question her own identity.

After three years have passed, Jessica confronts Lorenzo who admits that he has run through the money he borrowed from Antonio and Bassanio to start his business and they want it back. Jessica has little sympathy for her freeloading husband and instead plans a take the monkeys on a trip to Africa.

Desperate for cash, Lorenzo sells the monkeys to a merchant seaman hoping he can reignite their relationship without the primates around. When Jessica finds out what Lorenzo has done she leaves him.

Lorenzo chokes to death on a piece of sausage, The monkeys apparently overpower the crew on their ship and return to Venice with a treasure chest full of rings.

The play is at times absurd, ridiculous and completely nonsensical, but it is 100 per cent entertaining. Besides the terrific work of MacDougall and Palmer, ENCORE! newcomers Frédérique and Iannick Cyr Michaud stood out in their roles as Shylock and Mordecai.

Iannick's portrayal of Jessica's monkey was pure genius, especially the part where he claps his feet together while doing handstands. It was an incredibly physical role and Cyr-Michaud played it to the hilt. Former SNL cast member Chris Kattan of Mr. Peepers fame would be proud.

Jeysa Martinez-Pratt, Ian Martin, Brandon Miller, Keira Polak and Victoria Sawyer rounded out the talented cast who obviously benefitted under Hersh's direction and guidance.

This is the first play I've reviewed in the Black Box Theatre, and I most say that I was pretty impressed. The room is perfect for medium-size amateur theatre productions like "Jessica's Monkey".

The Orléans Young Players Theatre School will be presenting their holiday season offering "An OYP Christmas Carol" in the Black Box Theatre on Dec. 4, 5 and 6. For showtimes and ticket prices visit www.oyplayers.on.ca.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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