The Merchant of Venice is not one of Shakespeare's greatest plays. It is a comedy, making sport of the kind of blood libel that has been used to excuse the sadistic cruelty and oppression with which jews have been wantonly scourged for millennia by non-jews.
Portia's "he is little better than a beast" -- said in jest about one of her suitors -- inadvertently displays the other blood-libel, the greatest of them all: we project our worst vices onto our bloodied victims. We wrest even their name to baptize, disavow and excuse our own depravity toward them.
The play is a comedy, from beginning to end, juxtaposing Portia's father's strictures on her choice of mate with Shylock's strictures on Antonio's loan and Portia's strictures on the ring she gives Lorenzo.
Like all comedies in the hands of a genius, this one has its deeper moments, notably Shylock's "do we not bleed?" speech, but even that, in its vengeful pagan "eye for an eye" punchline, again projecting onto jews the failure of christians to practice what they preach (as forthcoming in Portia's "quality of mercy" speech) is getting out of a stereotype exactly what you put into it. And of course the jew had to be cruel to his daughter and his servants in order to hone our hatred for when the latest variant of the blood libel is launched against the "beast."
I usually deplore the obtrusion of a director's minor talent onto a masterwork, but in this case the most moving moment of the play did not come from Shakespeare but from Jonathan Mumby's closing, superimposing the wailing in Hebrew of Shylock's christened daughter Jessica, over the triumphant latin liturgy as Shylock is led to his own forced desecration.
Yet even here, the shoe is on the wrong foot, for it is not the imposition of an unwanted creed that is the real tragedy of the jews but the sadistic cruelty and oppression with which they have been wantonly scourged for millennia by non-jews for clinging to their own.
The real villain of the piece (though not the one impugned by Shakespeare) is of course creed itself. The rest is just about human nature, and what the majority creed (or kind) is disposed to do with the minority creed (or kind).
Not strictly a monologue -- though all acted and spoken by a single, very gifted actress, Sylvie Drapeau -- this is the narrative, mostly in dialogue form, of portions of the life of a daughter and her dying mother: her absentee father (dissipated, alcoholic and abusive to the mother, yet loved by his daughter), her stepfather (likewise abusive to both mother and daughter but a better provider than the biological father), and her beloved half-brother (sired by her stepfather).
The drama is about the dying mother's wish to see her son (alienated from her by the reliable stepfather who eventually abandoned both the mother and his stepdaughter(s), taking his son, age 8, with him, never to see his mother again). The themes are men's violence and apathy toward their spouses and female kin. Most of the dialogue is the daughter trying, by telling him about their past, to persuade her half-brother by telephone to fulfill his dying mother's wish. (We are left to imagine why he does not already know the story, why he has not been told before, how she can be on good terms with her half-brother despite the rupture and alienation, and what the real character of the mother was, aside from being a victim. We sense that she would have preferred a better life, a better spouse, and that she did the best she could under the circumstances.)
The play has some ambivalent anti-clerical aspects too: The usual impulse to commune with a just deity and the repulsion at the injustices, unprevented, unpunished. A "wise" priest is another fleeting personage in the drama.
In the end, the half-brother is not persuaded to "reconcile" with his mother, so the daughter can only use her mother's last fading consciousness to give her the verbal illusion that her son has come back to her, and is there.
All this is well-evoked, both by Jennifer Tremblay's text and by Sylvie Drapeau's moving performance. In the open discussion with the cast after the play it was repeatedly affirmed that the play evokes familiar familal themes in Quebec. Are male abusiveness and female victimhood really that universal a part of the fabric of Quebec society?