PICT Staging ‘The Merchant of Venice’; ‘Feeding the Dragon’ at City Theatre (Sun., 11/6/16)

Shylock (James FitzGerald) pleads his case in a land where the deck is stacked against him.

Shylock (James FitzGerald) pleads his case in a land where Jews don’t get a pound of flesh; they just get pounded.

1) PICT Classic Theatre is staging a controversial classic with Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. Written at a time when anti-Semitism was the norm, the play revolves around the Jewish moneylender Shylock, who notoriously demanded a pound of flesh as payoff for a defaulted loan.

For centuries, Shylock was played as a greedy, conniving stereotype, but Shakespeare didn’t write the part that way. He gave the man lines and scenes that bring out the complexity of his character, and show how he was often tormented by a society aligned against him. PICT has James FitzGerald as Shylock, in a production that re-sets The Merchant of Venice in a perilous modern era: the 1930s. 3 p.m. Sunday talk back. Performances through November 19. Union Project, 801 N. Negley Ave., Highland Park. (MV)

Sharon Washington has a library's worth of stories to share.

Sharon Washington has a library’s worth of stories to share. photo: Kristi Jan Hoover.

2) New York-based actress Sharon Washington is at City Theatre premiering a one-woman show about her childhood. Washington’s father worked as a live-in custodian for the New York Public Library system, so she grew up in apartments built into various old libraries, and from that odd circumstance flow many stories. She was able to roam the stacks after hours, reading from books that transported her imagination to faraway places while she sat alone under spots of light in the vast and vacant corridors. A custodian was needed around the clock to feed the huge coal furnaces that both heated and generated power for the old buildings—hence the title of Washington’s show, Feeding the Dragon—and when very young, she idolized her dad. He was the man who went down into the bowels and shoveled the fuel to keep the library alive. That changed in later years as dad’s drinking problem became apparent to her: there were times when he was out of commission, and she’d have to help her mother shovel the coal to keep the breadwinner’s job alive. Feeding the Dragon is thus a multifaceted tale of youth and learning. 2 p.m. Post show talk back. Performances through Saturday November 19. 1300 Bingham Street, South Side. (MV)

3) The Girl on the Train, a novel by British writer Paula Hawkins, was the subject of many a book club on both sides of the pond. In 2015, it debuted at number one on The New York Times Fiction Best Sellers list and was the number one hardback in the UK for 20 weeks. DreamWorks Pictures soon acquired the film rights with Universal Pictures distributing. As with the book, the movie concerns Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt), an alcoholic whose husband, Tom (Justin Theroux), left her for another woman. Watson commutes by train past her old home, where Tom lives with his new family. To distract herself, she fantasizes about the presumably happy couple living on the same block: Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott Hipwell (Luke Evans). The fantasy is shattered when Watson witnesses something horrible from the train. She wakes the following day, bruised and hungover, but with no memory of last night. Megan Hipwell, however, is missing. Tate Taylor (The Help) directs. For screens and times, check Fandango. (CM)

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Rick Handler

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