Actor Seana McKenna’s sublime performance helps power The Shakespeare Company’s exceptional dramatic staging of The Merchant of Venice

Theatre writer Caroline Russell-King offers her Postcard Review of the current production of Shakespeare’s There Merchant of Venice currently playing at the University of Calgary.

Show: The Merchant of Venice.

Playwright(s): William Shakespeare.

Production Company/Theatre space: The Shakespeare Company with Hit and Myth and UCalgary Drama at The Reeve Theatre, U of C.

Length: Two acts (two-and-a-half hours, one intermission). 

Genre(s): Classified as a comedy, romcom or tragicomedy, this production is a drama.

Premise: A man asks for a loan from a merchant so that he can pursue a wealthy heiress, and the merchant uses his credit to secure a loan from moneylender who, when she finds out disturbing news of her daughter and discovering a broken contract, decides to excise a pound of flesh from the body of the Merchant of Venice.

Why this play? Why now?: In a time when the left is calling for censorship under the guise of political correctness and with the ever-present problem of anti-Semitism, it is the perfect time to do this particular uncut play from the canon. 

Curiosities: How does one shore up the gap between a world-class actor and her talent with those just starting out? Sometimes layering alternate gender casting goes horribly wrong and sometimes like this it is perfect in every way — I ponder on what makes the difference.

Notable Moment: (Spoiler) When the defeated Shylock re-packs her bag and leaves the courtroom it is done with heartbreaking dignity.

Notable writing: It’s Shakespeare – it was written in 1596 and if we don’t die out as a species due to the climate crisis we will still be doing it in 2596.

Notable performances: Seana McKenna — Canada’s Meryl Streep — who plays Shylock is sublime. Jamie Konchak playing the iconic Portia is in fine form, as are Dean Paul Gibson who plays Antonio, the Merchant, and David Haysam who plays Bassanio.

Notable design/production: I’m a huge fan of Peter Moller’s sound designs and this one is no less perfect. Narda McCarroll’s lighting design is lovely, too.

Notable direction: Carey Perloff, former AD of the American Conservatory, San Francisco, initially was reticent to direct the play, but when she hit upon the idea to cast Seana as Shylock she decided to embrace “the nuance, the contradictions, the human complexity …”

One reason to see this show: Seana McKenna. Go, people, go.

(Photo courtesy Tim Nguyen/Citrus Photo.)

The Merchant of Venice runs until Dec. 8 at the University of Calgary’s The Reeve Theatre. For show times and tickets, please go to

Caroline Russell-King is a playwright, dramaturg, and instructor. She is a member of The Playwrights Guild of Canada, the Dramatist Guild of America and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You can find her work here at