New theater company performs Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice

(Top) Erin Weindorf, foreground, rehearses the role of Gratiana with Darin Cabot as Bassanio in the background. (Below) Algernon D'Ammassa rehearses the role of Shylock. Courtesy photos.
(Top) Erin Weindorf, foreground, rehearses the role of Gratiana with Darin Cabot as Bassanio in the background. (Below) Algernon D’Ammassa rehearses the role of Shylock. Courtesy photos.
Doña Ana Repertory Theatre (DART), a fledgling company founded by local professional actors in hopes of establishing a professional theatre, will make its debut with a touring production of a William Shakespeare play that has long been controversial.

The Merchant of Venice is set in 16th century Venice, a segregated society in which slavery is common and Jewish residents are forced to live in a ghetto. Antonio, a wealthy merchant, borrows money to help a friend woo his love, and signs a contract with a much-abused moneylender named Shylock. When Antonio cannot repay the loan, Shylock uses the court to seek a terrible revenge for years of anti-Semitic abuse.

The play has long been the subject of debate because of the anti-Semitic attitudes of the characters, and whether Shylock is a negative stereotype. To director Joseph Lopez and actor Algernon D’Ammassa (who plays Shylock), Shylock is a human being lashing out in response to injustice.

Lopez comments, “We’ve decided to set Merchant in a contemporary setting because we wanted to show that the issues that arise here are not historical issues; they exist today. To me, Shylock represents the perpetual foreigner. He lives among the Venetians, and yet will never be considered one of them. Today, I believe groups like Muslims and Latinos share the same plight, and it’s something I wanted to highlight. Now, that’s not to say that Shylock is the hero; he definitely isn’t. It’s saying that a society that alienates its newest members creates Shylocks every day, and that’s the tragedy.”

D’Ammassa adds, “The ‘good guys’ in this play are blind to the injustice on which their world is based. This is also true of our world. ‘Black Lives Matter’ and similar movements are trying to expose what has been invisible to the dominant culture.”

Merchant also features one of Shakespeare’s famous courtships, as Bassanio must earn Portia’s hand in marriage by solving a riddle involving three caskets made of gold, silver, and lead.

The cast includes many actors familiar from professional and community stages in the region, as well as recent graduates of NMSU and current students in the Las Cruces Public Schools. The company consists of: Julian Alexander, Darin Cabot, Victoria Castillo, Nicholas Check, Algernon D’Ammassa, David Edwards, Victoria Ehly, Joseph Lopez, Francesca Pérez-Wright, Richard Rundell, Mark Steffen, Jacob Tellez, and Erin Wendorf.

DART’s founders are Darin Cabot, Algernon D’Ammassa, and Joseph Lopez, all of whom are experienced in professional theatre as actors, directors, and as teachers.

Darin Cabot is a graduate of New Mexico State University who earned a graduate degree in acting and pedagogy at the University of Alabama. He spent five years living and working in New York City and performed in Cuba before returning to Las Cruces to teach theatre and English at Centennial High School.

Algernon D’Ammassa is an actor, director, and writer originally from Rhode Island, who worked with the Trinity Repertory Company and has traveled all over the United States as a stage performer and teacher. He has also performed Shakespeare and taught children’s theatre programs in Tuscany, Italy, and currently teaches at NMSU’s Creative Media Institute.

Joseph Lopez is a native of Las Cruces who graduated from NMSU, and completed his graduate degree at the University of Southern Mississippi. Before DART, Lopez worked with the Southern Arena Theatre in Hattiesburg, Mississippi and the Yamamoto Noh Theatre in Osaka, Japan.

Performances of The Merchant of Venice will take place at the following dates, times, and locations:

July 9 – 12: Las Cruces Community Theatre, 313 Main Street, downtown Las Cruces. 8 p.m.

July 23 & 24: Rynerson House, 266 W. Court Avenue, Las Cruces. 8 p.m.

July 25: Deming Depot Theatre, 217 N. Country Club Road, Deming. Two shows: 2 and 8 p.m.

July 30: Rynerson House, 266 W. Court Avenue, Las Cruces. 8 p.m.

July 31 and August 1: Glasbox, 210 Poplar Street, El Paso. 8 p.m. The show runs about two hours
with one intermission.

For more information on the tour, updates and details about the production will be posted at facebook.com/theatredojous. Venues will not accept reservations, but calls for information may be directed to Theatre Dojo at 545-7613.