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The Merchant of Venice (Annotated),
or In Sooth I Know Not Why I Am So Sad



"The beauty of Henne’s play and his production is that it’s not really a play, it’s an oratorio...gorgeously rendered by the ensemble and the design team."

– Steven Leigh Morris, Stage Raw

"a poignant statement on how humans treat each other and how throughout history, money is power"

– Jeff Slayton, LA Dance Chronicle

"The endless onstage rearrangement of detritus and capital, cash and trash, marked a shuffling of social relations in which power took different forms but always relied on the violence of exclusion. Merchant Annotated offered no panacea to the many and varied overlapping ills of the moment, but, in making use of a series of historical parallels in an innovative dramaturgy of social commitment, it also refused to be consigned to the dustbin of history."

– Robin Alfriend Kello, Shakespeare Bulletin


The Merchant of Venice (Annotated), or In Sooth I Know Not Why I Am So Sad has been presented in Los Angeles, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, OR, Baltimore, Seattle, and Irvine, CA. Performance dates in additional regions to come!


What can a play from sixteenth century England tell us about how antisemitism and other prejudicial beliefs operate in our world today? What perceived truths does a play reveal about the society in which it was created, and what ideas within that society does it reinforce?

William Shakespeare likely wrote The Merchant of Venice between 1596 and 1598, only a few years after plague had temporarily closed London's theaters. This was a period of great uncertainty in English society, with ongoing conflicts taking their toll, concerns about the government's stability under an aging leader, and significant economic stresses. The anxieties associated with these societal pressures can perhaps be seen in Merchant in its portrayal of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender.


Bringing together elements of Merchant with Elizabethan history and news from 2020 to the present, The Merchant of Venice (Annotated), or In Sooth I Know Not Why I Am So Sad takes a kaleidoscopic view of the ways in which members of a society displace their fears on the "other" during times of upheaval.

The run time is approximately 2 hours 45 minutes including one 15 minute intermission.


The Merchant of Venice (Annotated), or In Sooth I Know Not Why I Am So Sad premiered on May 12, 2023 in Los Angeles in Shatto Chapel at First Congregational Church of Los Angeles. The inaugural production engaged with the chapel's vaulted ceilings, ornate design, and iconography and incorporated the chapel's pipe organ in the music and sound design. It ran for a limited two-week engagement before beginning a tour to other locations throughout North America.


Following the Los Angeles premiere, The Merchant of Venice (Annotated), or In Sooth I Know Not Why I Am So Sad traveled to The Lipinsky Family San Diego Jewish Arts Festival (JFEST) for a presentation on June 18, 2023 in La Jolla, California, and continued to the Oshman Family JCC (OFJCC) in Palo Alto, California on September 9, 2023 as part of a rolling world premiere.


The production continued on to Portland, Oregon with a performance on October 23, 2023 at Portland State University (PSU). Presented by PSU and Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education (OJMCHE), the Portland performance was also part of Shakespeare’s First Folio: 1623–2023, a city-wide celebration of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the first folio.

On January 25, 2024, The Merchant of Venice (Annotated) was performed at 2640 Space in Baltimore, Maryland, presented in partnership with the Jewish Museum of Maryland and co-sponsored by the Lillian and Albert Small Capital Jewish Museum.

On February 11, 2024, the show was presented by Stroum Jewish Community Center (the J) on Mercer Island in Seattle, Washington.

On February 17, 2024, Merchant (Annotated) was presented in Irvine, California by the UCI New Swan Shakespeare Center and Jewish Community Foundation Orange County’s Weissman Arts at the University of California, Irvine (UCI).



The Breman Museum in Atlanta, GA presented an in-process presentation under the working title The Merchant Project on Sunday, February 5, 2023. The free event consisted of a 60 minute reading of selections from the play-in-development, followed by a 30 minute Q & A.

Readings and discussions of selections of the work have taken place at The Magnes at UC Berkeley (presented in partnership with the JCC East Bay) on September 13, 2023, and with the UCI New Swan Shakespeare Center, (co-sponsored by UCI's Center for Jewish Studies, and the Albert & Rhoda Yvette Weissman Art Endowment of the Jewish Community Foundation of Orange County) on December 5, 2023.


The Merchant of Venice (Annotated), or In Sooth I Know Not Why I Am So Sad has toured in conjunction with our residencies program. Residencies in Atlanta, the San Diego area, the San Francisco Bay Area, Portland, Baltimore, and Seattle were all supported in part by a grant from The Covenant Foundation. Our residency in Orange County, CA was funded by a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation Orange County's Weissman Arts Fund.


Written and Directed by Aaron Henne

Developed with Leslie K. Gray,  Erith Jaffe-Berg, Joe Jordan, Adam Lebowitz-Lockard, Julie A. Lockhart, Gabrielle Ostrove, Flori Schutzer, Fahad Siadat, Dylan Southard, Diana Tanaka, Inger Tudor, Jon Weinberg, and Jonathan C.K. Williams


Joe Jordan

Adam Lebowitz-Lockard

Julie A. Lockhart

Diana Tanaka

Inger Tudor


Stage Manager: Roella Dellosa
Composer / Music Director: Fahad Siadat

Keyboardist: Andrew Anderson

Lighting Designer: Brandon Baruch
Sound Designer: 
Daniel Tator / Launch
Production Designer: Leslie K. Gray

Costume Designer: Kathryn Poppen

Dramaturg: Dylan Southard

Contributing Scholar: Erith Jaffe-Berg, PhD

Consulting Scholar: Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, PhD

Historical Consultant: Jennifer Wells, JD/PhD


The performance art piece The Villainy You Teach was created by theatre dybbuk in the winter of 2023 as a companion piece to The Merchant of Venice (Annotated), or In Sooth I Know Not Why I Am So Sad. Villainy also explores The Merchant of Venice through the durational performance of a Shylock monologue repeated throughout a stylized reading of the play. Its inaugural performance was presented in collaboration with Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions and the Philosophical Research Society on March 2, 2023 in the library at the Philosophical Research Society. It toured alongside The Merchant of Venice (Annotated) as part of our residencies program to Coronado, CA, San Francisco, CA, Portland, OR, and Washington, D.C.


  • resource packet from dramaturg Dylan Southard (PDF)

  • podcast episode "The Merchant of Venice: Ghetto" – Dr. Daniel Schwartz discusses the history of the word “ghetto" and look at ways that ideas contained in Shakespeare's play overlap with and deviate from that history.

  • podcast episode "The Merchant of Venice: Shakespeare in Performance" – Dr. Daniel Pollack-Pelzner takes up the question: “Why perform The Merchant of Venice?" and discusses its production history, scholarship related to the work, and his own personal relationship to the play. This episode was recorded live during our Portland, Oregon residency.

  • podcast episode "The Merchant of Venice: Annotated" – Dr. Jennifer Wells takes us through the social, economic, and political landscape of Elizabethan England as Aaron Henne, the writer and director of our latest work and artistic director of theatre dybbuk, illuminates that history's impact on our interpretation of Shakespeare's Merchant.

  • podcast episode "The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages"– Dr. Geraldine Heng discusses the evidence for racialized thinking in the European medieval period.

  • podcast episode "In Defense of Women" – Dr. Erith Jaffe-Berg discusses 16th century Jewish life on the Northern Italian Peninsula and comedia dell'arte.

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