March madness has many different ways of being expressed. The typical fashion of getting into the Spring of things after a long winter of little activity is usual for many.
As part of the UC Davis Arts, they have put on a free play called "Merchants of Venice". They are now in the middle of their Winter quarter finals schedule, certainly a way of celebrating the March of Madness.
The arts department found the time to put an entire Shakespeare play on in the old Wyatt Theater located on the Old Davis Road in Davis. This was originally a livestock judging arena built in 1907, UC Davis was actually established as the "farm" of UC Berkeley.
Today it is an important part of the Arts of UC Davis, the building is covered and has Elizabethan style seating. This is important considering the way in which the actors used the seating as part of their exhibitions.
The play itself, "Merchants of Venice" was written by Shakespeare about 1598. It deals with the treachery of moneylending, a serious crime against the "Jews" in Europe. It is in fact a play which deals with so called erroneous racial discrimination, in this case the Jewish community was still under attack even in England.
The City of Venice was first inhabited by the Veniti people in the upper portion of Italy, a series of islands at the mouth of the Po and Piave rivers. It was a city by the time of the Romans, but one of the independent ones until Charlemagne finally sieged it in a battle. It was used by Crusaders as a jumping off point towards Constantinople and Jerusalem. It went into decline as an important trading center when the Ottomans took custody of Constantinople away from the Christians under the Holy Roman empire.
It final blow was from the Black Plague in 1577, a decade before Shakespeare wrote his play. The play still uses all of the beauty and romance this city was well known for during the Middle ages, with a heroine fleeing her oppressive Jewish father and his religion for a Christian husband. It still deals with heiresses who are required to abide by the laws of their fathers if they want to maintain the wealth which comes to them by marrying under specific circumstances. the use of masks is interesting in the deception in the community of keeping their true identities from others as well as the fact that the only real way to prevent the Black death which had already decimated the English people was by covering their faces.
This play as put on by the UC Davis arts was well done despite the very warm March weather experienced in an old building without air-conditioning. It was an almost entirely female cast due to others being busy with Spring projects across the campus.
The only male was the Jewish money lender, who was played by a Latino if that is still the correct term. This is an interesting adaption as many of the Spanish community were under suspenscion for their strong Catholic ties in the past few centrueis since the Reformation of the protestants who wanted their freedom from an oppressive religion.
The actors were quite good under the conditions of the rising smells of the building and the warmth of the outside air. They were dressed in customs according to their belief in their particular character, the many in leggings instead of tights as the men would have worn in the 16th century Europe. The only suit was of course, worn by the moneylender as we have come accustomed to bankers wearing a suit of armor against the multitudes of dishonest citizens willing to deceive others in the community. A few female type articles were worn by those still portraying females while the others chose boots as their method of showing male authority.
Over all the stage setting of having the actors sit amongst the crowd as a real community play would have been put on during the middle ages, as well as the actors rising above the language difficulties of speaking a form of English no longer used even in England, and the whole time not considering their own finals which must be looming this week over their heads. Recommended would be the next offering by the Arts department, they do Shakespeare during the summer and have free shows occasionally, such as this one. Make the effort during the Spring to consider the variety of Arts offered by the local UC Davis liberal arts departments near Sacramento.