The Conversos of Venice

Venice, 1601: Twelve years after the forced conversion portrayed in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", an elderly Shylock lives as a strange prisoner: free to conduct his business throughout the city, but ever in fear of torture or death should authorities suspect that he has reverted to Judaism. Meanwhile, his estranged daughter, Gessica, now a mother, is slowly realizing that even a...
Venice, 1601: Twelve years after the forced conversion portrayed in Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", an elderly Shylock lives as a strange prisoner: free to conduct his business throughout the city, but ever in fear of torture or death should authorities suspect that he has reverted to Judaism. Meanwhile, his estranged daughter, Gessica, now a mother, is slowly realizing that even a willing convert to Catholicism is not free from suspicion -- suspicions that may affect even her daughter's prospects. The merchant prince, Antonio, over-extended with his Christian creditors and unable to borrow from Jewish lenders, hatches a plan with his legal advisor, Portia, and Gessica's husband, Lorenzo, to seize the remains of Shylock's fortune in order to finance a new trade venture.

Having learned long ago that Antonio is not a man to be trusted and that Venice is not a city predisposed to give him justice, Shylock has been planning to escape so that he might live his last years in peace. Meanwhile, Gessica is drawn into the commercial conflict between her husband's friends and her father, and a bombastic Spanish ship captain in Antonio's employ seems willing to cut a deal with both sides.
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The Conversos of Venice

Recommended by

  • Tony Tambasco:
    14 Jun. 2024
    A touching and thoughtful dramatic reply to The Merchant of Venice that would make an excellent companion piece to that play. Conversos blurs the line between history and fiction, and written in light of changing historical and scholarly perspectives on Shakespeare's characters, flips the script into a satisfying sequel. The cherry on top is Thal's inclusion of commedia and folk song as essential plot elements.
  • Nora Louise Syran:
    23 Apr. 2024
    Thal's play immerses us in the multicultural frenzy and bustling commerce of 17th century Venice -- complete, unlike its "prequel" THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, with its canals! While drawing from Commedia dell'arte's situational comedy, the tale is steeped in tragicomedy as running beneath it all is the ever present lurid antisemitism of Shakespeare's play and the treatment of the character Shylock. Thal "fleshes" out this character, humanizes him and adds moments of levity including my favorite line: "The Inglés wish not to become Escocés. I have seen their plays and they would rather be Italianos." Quite a trip!
  • Rachel Feeny-Williams:
    30 Sep. 2023
    I read this play with complete Awe at the dedication Ian has put to his research behind the story he's created! Its a play gorgeously rich and story and sets the imagination on fire with the way certain scenes are presented and the wonderful dialogue that is both witty and strong in equal measure. There are somethat would say Shakespeare has been overdone but Ian has created a wonderfully unique take on a tale that is well known across schools and colleges. Its a piece that offers a varied cast and a fabulous opportunity for directors and producers alike!

Character Information

  • Shylock
    50s-70s+,
    Sephardi, Sephardic, Jewish, Converso
    ,
    Male
    A dozen years after the events portrayed in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, he lives outwardly as a Christian. It is widely suspected that this is ruse and that he remains a crypto-Jew but the politics of the Venice prevent this matter from being pursed further.
  • Rotalinda
    Any Age,
    Venetian, Zannia
    ,
    Female
    Servant in Antonio's palazzo. A brilliant chef. Married to a Neapolitan chicken thief. Sometimes sleeps with Launcelot.
  • Portia
    late 20s to 30s.,
    Venetian, Mediterranean
    ,
    Female
    Inheritor of an ancient aristocratic line. Claims that her lineage traces back to the Roman Republic. Perhaps the Venetian Republic's most brilliant mind, excelling in alchemy, theology, political strategy, and polemical writings. Very much aware that due to her gender, her brilliance is unlikely to be remembered. Occasionally wears men's clothing. Probably should be the Doge of Venice.
  • Natalia
    11 or 12,
    Jewish, Converso, Sephardic, Sephardi, Venetian, Mediterranean
    ,
    Female
    Daughter of Gessica and Lorenzo. Like many children, she is sometimes naïve, sometimes insightful. Still plays with dolls. Sings. Still has an active imagination. A small adult actor who can plausibly play a child is acceptable.
  • Lorenzo
    30s,
    Venetian, Mediterranean
    ,
    Male
    Son of minor nobility in the Venetian Republic. Prone to making rash decisions on his own though he has learned to take council from those wiser than him. Husband of the convert, Gessica. Father of Natalia.
  • Launcelot Gobbo
    Any Age,
    Zanni
    ,
    Male
    A Bergamàsch Zanni whose name is a vulgar joke. Smarter than his social superiors expect given his low station. Mostly uses his intelligence for his own amusement. Ravenous and promiscuous.
  • Keturah
    Any Age,
    Jewish, Sephardic, Converso
    ,
    Female
    One of the few woman in Venice who would seek employment in Shylock's house after the events of twelve years prior. Perhaps the only woman Shylock would hire.
  • Il Capitano
    Any Age,
    Spaniard
    ,
    Male
    Either a Spanish captain in the employment of Antonio, or a masked character from the commedia dell'arte. The narrator of the play, he mistakenly thinks that he is also the protagonist.

    Appears on stage both masked and unmasked. These appearances may be played by different actors. If two actors are used, it is recommended they be of different genders.
  • Gessica / Yiskah
    Late 20s to 30s.,
    Jewish, Sephardic, Sephardi, Converso
    ,
    Female
    The Jessica of Shakespeare's play. A dozen years ago she broke her father's heart by abandoning Judaism and and converting to Catholicism. Now a mother and politically savvy enough to realize that she and her daughter's safety may not be politically expedient to others. Estranged daughter of Shylock. Mother of Natalia. Wife of Lorenzo. Still remembers Ladino-language songs from when she lived in the Ghetto.
  • Antonio
    50s - 60s,
    Venetian, Mediterranean
    ,
    Male, Gay
    The "Merchant of Venice". Powerful nobleman. Takes great risks in commerce. Creative use of leverage in dealing with his debts and avoiding scandal. Unmarried. Very much aware that he is in the last days of his middle-age, and is so concerned for his eternal soul. By twenty-first century standards, a gay man; Antonio is, however, a man of the sixteenth century.

Development History

  • Reading
    ,
    Atlanta Dramatists
    ,
    2024
  • Reading
    ,
    Chaos Theater Collective
    ,
    2021
  • Reading
    ,
    Small Theatre Alliance of Boston
    ,
    2011

Awards

Semi-Finalist
,
Campfire Theatre Festival
,
Campfire Theatre Festival
,
2020
Semi-Finalist
,
New Play Reading Series
,
 Wordsmyth Theater Company
,
2015