The San Quentin Protestant Chapel was transformed into a Shakespeare stage with inmates and free volunteer actors before an audience of about 300 prisoners and free people for the performance of The Merchant of Venice.
“These men show Shakespeare matters to the way they’re living. It really matters,” said Sean Keilen. “I expected to be moved by the performance, and I was. The level of honesty was impressive.” I cannot believe we’re in a state institution. This is way too professional.”
Keilen and Michael Warren teach Shakespearean theater in their community of Santa Cruz. It was their first time inside a prison. “The theme of understanding the law and forgiveness really matters here,” said Warren.
Marin Shakespeare Company has sponsored San Quentin’s drama club for about six years, producing six Shakespearian plays.
Director Suraya Keating’s program notes describe The Merchant of Venice as one of Shakespeare’s “powerful dark comedies.” She wrote, “It raises themes of hatred” along with “different perspectives, love, greed and forgiveness in a way that takes us to the very core of our hearts.”
“What if we chose to live in a world where our differences were celebrated and valued rather than despised–where different perspectives were considered a sign of the beautiful diversity and multi-faceted intelligence of human beings?” Keating wrote.
Keating challenged the audience to “reflect and ask yourself: ‘How does living from a place of love, generosity and forgiveness change your life?’”
Picking up from his last performance of Hamlet, thespian JulianGlenn “Luke” Padgett exhibited a unique style of character development for Shylock, the Jewish moneylender.
The audience was not disappointed by Padgett’s grandiose performance that evoked laughter, sadness, condemnation, and sympathy for Shylock.
Padgett is a life-term prisoner, incarcerated since 1995 for first-degree murder, arson, car theft and burglary. He has been with San Quentin’s drama club since 2006.
Incorporated into the prisoners’ interpretation of The Merchant of Venice were, a dice game, Gospel signer Kirk Franklin’s “Brighter Day” and Rod Steward’s “Tonight’s the Night,” with an audience sing-along.
Prisoner Steve McAlister, 56, said he saw his first play while incarcerated at San Quentin. “Everything I hear today was wonderful. When I go home next year, I look forward to going to plays with my grandchildren.”
McAlister has been imprisoned since 1996. He is scheduled for parole in 2014.
He said he’s been clean 17 years and regularly attends Narcotics Anonymous, Victims Offender Education Group, Addiction Recovery Counseling, and other pro-social/self-help programs that would help him be a law-abiding citizen. He said he will parole to a transitional housing and has the full support of his family and community.
Noah Wright, 41, who is a life-term prisoner, said he transferred from Vacaville to San Quentin about seven months ago.
Wright said he enjoys Shakespearean plays. He said he seen A Midnight Summer’s Dream, and Macbeth. This was the first time he’s seen The Merchant of Venice.
He said, since being at San Quentin, he’s enrolled into several self-help groups, college, and the drama classes. “I enjoyed getting over stage fright and getting out of my shell.”
A community member in the audience said, “You guys inspire me.” She looked tearfully at the actors and said, “We have to spread the word about these guys who cannot speak for themselves that we need Arts in Corrections as a form of rehabilitation.”
The actors expressed to the audience what performing in drama brings to their lives.
“It gives me the chance to be transparent and honest,” said actor Joey Mason.
Actor Carlos Meza said, “We’re valuable human beings,” which brought a standing ovation.
“I grew up an actor, a bad actor; however, I’m turning creation into reality,” said actor John Neblett.
Kimani Randall said, “It has given me the ability to dream again.”
“Playing Shylock made me think about what it means to be both Jewish and African-American. The roles were challenging and rewarding. It was nice to read what the Marin Independent Journal wrote,” said Padgett.
Warden Kevin Chappell attended the play.
Marin Shakespeare Company filmed the performance. The local newspaper coverage can be viewed at: http://www.marinij.com/sanrafael/ci 23320067/san-quentin-prisoners-perform-shakespeare-play-about-mercy.
Joey Mason – Salerio, a Christian Venetian, friend of Bassanio
Juan Meza – Salanio, a Christian Venetian, friend of Antonio
John Neblett – Antonio, a wealthy Christian merchant with many trading ships
Rodney “R.C.” Capell – Bassanio, a Christian Venetian, in love with Portia
Kimani Randall – Lorenzo, a Christian Venetian, in love with the Jewess Jessica
Kim Moody – Portia, a rich heiress who lives in Belmont (a sea voyage from Venice)
Alex Goldsmith – Nerissa, Portia’s lady-in-waiting
Eric Lowery – Stephano, Portia’s steward
Julian GlennPadgett – Shylock, a wealthy Jew in Venice who lends money for interest
Nythell “Nate” Collins – Prince of Morocco, a suitor to Portia
Tristan Jones – Lancelot Gobbo, Shylock’s servant (later Bassanio’s servant)
Joey Barnes – Old Gobbo, Lancelot’s father, a blind old man
Amelia Calhoun Kriss – Jessica, Shylock’s daughter
Angelo Falcone – Prince of Aragon, a suitor to Portia
Tristan Jones– Prince of Aragon’s attendant
John Neblett – Prince of Aragon’s attendant
Nythell “Nate” Collins – Tubal, friend to Shylock, also a Jew
Joey Barnes – A jailer
Angelo Falcone – Duke of Venice
Wayne Villafranco – Drums
Lemar “Maverick” Harrison – Gratiano, a follower of Bassiano in love with Nerissa
Joey Mason – Guitar