District Merchants
by Aaron Posner
inspired by William Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice
directed by Michael Michetti
West Coast Premiere
October 2, 2016 - October 23, 2016


With audacious humor and bold inventiveness, Aaron Posner (SCR’s The Tempest) takes The Merchant of Venice from its Shakespearean setting to post-Civil War Washington, D.C., with hints at life in America today. In the complex and contradictory worlds of  blacks, whites, Jews and Christians, money changes hands with dangerously high stakes, philanthropic acts mask blatant opportunism and would-be lovers hide—and then uncover—their differences. While love gets a chance, does hope remain for a just and kind tomorrow?

Previews: October 2-6, 2016
First Night: October 7, 2016
Regular Performances: October 8-23, 2016

Recommendation: Suitable for high school and above.

Running Time: Approximately ​two hours and 40 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

Aaron Posner is an award-winning playwright and director. His other plays include Stupid F**king Bird (a finalist for the Steinberg Award and the winner of the 2014 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding New Play); Life Sucks; No Sisters (all re-inventions of Chekhov plays);The Tempest and Macbeth (both with Teller of Penn & Teller); Who Am I This Time? & Other Conundrums of Love (adapted from Kurt Vonnegut short stories); The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev (adapted from the Chaim Potok novels); Sometimes a Great Notion (adapted from Ken Kesey); a nine-actor Cyrano; and a musical adaptation of Mark Twain’s A Murder, A Mystery and A Marriage. He is a founder and former artistic director of Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre and has directed at major regional theatres from coast to coast. He is an artistic associate at the Folger Theatre in Washington, D.C where District Merchants premiered.
Learn more about the production, cast & creative team with a peek into the program. Read full artist bios, in-depth articles and more.

Matthew Boston (Shylock) is making his SCR debut. He originated the role of Shylock in District Merchants at the Folger Theatre. His other New York and regional credits include leading roles at such theatres as Yale Repertory Theatre, Hartford Stage, A.C.T., Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Huntington Theatre Company, Trinity Repertory, TheaterWorks, Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Portland Center Stage, George Street Playhouse, Center Stage, Dallas Theater Center, A Contemporary Theatre (ACT), Two River Theater Company, Cleveland Playhouse, Great Lakes Theater Festival, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Human Race Theatre Company, Northern Stage, Kitchen Theatre Company, 59E59, SoHo Rep, Working Theater, as well as many others. His film and television credits include “Blue Bloods,” “The Mysteries of Laura,” “Law & Order,” In the Family, Ghost Ship, Into the Blue, Camp Wilderness, “One Life to Live” and “All My Children.”

Chris Butler (Benjamin Bassanio) is a two-time Ovation, NAACP, LA Drama Critics Circle and Garland Award-winner for his work in Yellowman (The Fountain Theatre) and Stick Fly (The Matrix Theatre Company). His other theatre work includes the Broadway revival of 110 in the Shade (Roundabout Theatre Company); Death of a Salesman (SCR); Race (A.C.T.); Julius Caesar (Shakespeare Santa Cruz); Gem of the Ocean, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Rubicon Theatre Company); A Raisin In The Sun, The Piano Lesson (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Twelfth Night, Much Ado About Nothing, Romeo and Juliet (The Shakespeare Center of LA); Blue (Pasadena Playhouse); and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Globe Theatre). His television credits include “The Good Wife,” “Scandal,” “Modern Family,” “True Detective,” “Major Crimes,” “Shameless,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “NCIS: Los Angeles,” “Bones,” “Criminal Minds,” “True Blood” and “King & Maxwell.” His film credits include Rescue Dawn, 30 Nights, Burning Dog and Cradle 2 the Grave. Butler holds an MFA in theatre (University of California, San Diego) and a BA in dramatic arts (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill).

Akeem Davis (Lancelot) is making his SCR debut. He is from Miami, Fla., and is a graduate of Florida State University. Based in Philadelphia, Davis has regional credits with the Folger Theatre (District Merchants), People’s Light and Theatre Company (All My Sons), Theatre Horizon (In The Blood and Lobby Hero) and Simpatico Theatre Project (The Brothers Size). He is a proud man of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., and is the 2015 F. Otto Haas Emerging Theatre Artist Award winner.

Matthew Grondin (​Finneus (Finn) Randall) is thrilled to be making his debut at SCR—with such a terrific group of people! His recent credits include Women In Jeopardy and Good People (Ensemble Theatre Company); A Moon for the Misbegotten (Rubicon Theatre Company); Bad Jews (Stage West Theatre); the world premiere of Everything You Touch and the West Coast premiere of Shiv (u/s The Theatre @ Boston Court); Rabbit Hole and Spinning Into Butter (Actor’s Co-Op); and Friends Like These (New York Fringe). He is a member of Antaeus Theatre Company’s A2 Ensemble, where he has participated in various ClassicFests and staged readings. He also is a writer—his first play, Granite, was staged at Joan Scheckel’s Collective Loft.


​​Kristy Johnson (​​​Nessa) appeared at SCR previously in Jitney. Her theatre credits include Above The Fold (Pasadena Playhouse; NAACP Theatre Award, Best Supporting Female Equity, alongside Golden Globe winner and Academy Award nominee Taraji P. Henson), Jitney (Pasadena Playhouse), Intimate Apparel (Pasadena Playhouse), The Good Negro (u/s, Goodman Theatre), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Court Theatre), A Song for Coretta (Eclipse Theatre; Joseph Jefferson Award nominee, Actress in a Supporting Role), It’s a Wonderful Life (touring company, American Theater Company) and I Am Who I Am: The Story of Teddy Pendergrass (Black Ensemble Theater). Her film and television credits include Battle of the Year, “Criminal Minds,” “Hart of Dixie,” “General Hospital” and “House.” Johnson is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago Law School.


​​​Montae Russell (​​​​Antoine DuPre) appeared at SCR previously in Jitney. His New York theatre credits include Broadway productions of King Hedley II and Prelude to a Kiss. He has performed in several off-Broadway and Los Angeles productions including the portrayal of Charlie “Bird” Parker in the NAACP Theatre Award nominated Bird Lives!, as well as the August Wilson 20th Century staged readings at The Kennedy Center, and has performed in all 10 of the plays in August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle. He has guest-starred in several television shows, most recently “Rizzoli & Isles,” and spent several seasons on NBC’s “ER” as Paramedic Zadro White. His film credits include The Player’s Club, opposite Lisa Raye, Banged Out, Laurel Avenue and Lily in Winter opposite Natalie Cole.


​​​Helen Sage Howard Simpson (​​​​Portia) (who goes by Sage) is thrilled to be making her SCR debut. She is originally from beautiful Bozeman, Mont., and studied theatre and Hispanic studies at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. She went on to perform with a variety of theatre companies in San Francisco before moving south to attend UC Irvine, where she received her MFA in acting. Simpson now resides in Los Angeles and is a proud founding member of the theatre company Fugitive Kind, where she most recently played Olivia in Shine Darkly Illyria and was nominated for an Ovation Award (featured actress) for her performance as Courtney in The Pliant Girls. Her other recent roles with Fugitive Kind include Peter Quince (Midsummer Night’s Dream), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth) and Eugene (The Fire Room).


​​​Rachel Esther Tate (​​​​Jessica) is making her SCR debut. Her regional theatre credits include Stupid F*cking Bird (Nina) at Cygnet Theatre, Appropriate (u/s River) at Mark Taper Forum, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike (Nina) at Arena Stage directed by our playwright Aaron Posner, Our Town (Emily) at Mirror Repertory Company and Rocky Horror Show (Phantom) at Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte. Her New York credits include Saint Joan and Hamlet with Bedlam Theatre and Blood Privilege with Second Skin Theatre. rachelesthertate.squarespace.com

Creative Team

Michael Michetti (Director) is the co-artistic director of The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena, where his directing credits include Aaron Posner’s Stupid F**king Bird, plus world premieres of Eric Whitacre’s Paradise Lost: Shadows & Wings, his own adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray and Tom Jacobson’s The Twentieth-Century Way, which went on to have an acclaimed run at New York’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. His other directing credits include Jacobson’s Captain of the Bible Quiz Team for Rogue Machine Theatre; Figaro, The Grapes of Wrath, Hamlet, Don Juan and As You Like It at A Noise Within; Brecht’s Edward II for Circle X; Amy’s View, starring Carol Lawrence, at Florida Repertory Theatre; Noises Off at PlayMakers Repertory Company; A Life in the Theatre, starring Hal Holbrook, at Pasadena Playhouse; Kiss Me, Kate, Carousel and Man of La Mancha at Reprise Theatre Company. He has received two Ovation Awards and five Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for his direction.

Dan Conway (Scenic Design) previously designed The Tempest for SCR, American Repertory Theater and Chicago Shakespeare Theater, directed by Aaron Posner and Teller. His recent projects include Penn & Teller on Broadway, directed by John Rando; At Wit’s End, Love in Afghanistan and Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike for Arena Stage; the premiere of American Song directed by Mark Clements for Milwaukee Repertory Theater; The Game’s Afoot for Cleveland Play House; Company, Hairspray, Chess and Sunset Boulevard directed by Eric Schaeffer for Signature Theatre; Sabrina Fair for Ford’s Theatre; and The Merry Wives of Windsor for Shakespeare Theater Company. His current and upcoming productions include Jelly’s Last Jam, directed by Matt Gardiner for Signature Theatre; At Wit’s End directed by David Esbjornsen for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; and Hand to God, directed by Joanie Schultz, Three Sisters, directed by Jackson Gay, and the premiere of No Sisters written and directed by Aaron Posner for Studio Theatre. He has been nominated 12 times for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Set Design, and received the award in 2000, 2009 and 2015 for Stunning at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, directed by Anne Kaufmann.

Garry Lennon (Costume Design) is a Los Angeles-based costume designer. Previously, at SCR, he designed costumes for Jane of the Jungle. This summer, he designed Independent Shakespeare Company’s production of Richard III. At The Theatre @ Boston Court, he designed Colony Collapse, My Barking Dog, Seven Spots on the Sun and The Missing Pages of Lewis Carroll. He also has designed for Reprise Theatre Company’s productions of Kiss Me, Kate, Carousel, Man of La Mancha and Flora, the Red Menace. His work was seen in Cornerstone Theater Company’s It’s All Bueno, Los Illegals, Waking up in Lost Hills and Mary Shelley’s Santa Claus, and the premiere productions of Sister Act at Pasadena Playhouse and Alliance Theatre. He has designed at Bard SummerScape, Mixed Blood Theatre, Dallas Children’s Theater and the International City Theatre. Lennon is a professor and the chair of the Theatre Department at California State University, Northridge.

Elizabeth Harper (Lighting Design) returns to SCR, where she previously designed Office Hour, Venus in Fur, tokyo fish story and Reunion. Her design credits include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Immediate Family (Mark Taper Forum); A Raisin in the Sun, Woman Laughing Alone with Salad and Throw Me on the Burnpile and Light Me Up (Kirk Douglas Theatre); Play Dead, Wait Until Dark, Bad Jews and Good People (Geffen Playhouse); The Twentieth-Century Way and The Golden Dragon (The Theatre @ Boston Court); and Crescent City (The Industry). She served as a technical consultant for installations at Los Angeles County Museum of Art and Greene Naftali. Her industrial lighting projects include events for Microsoft, On-Live, Ubisoft and Universal Studios. Harper holds an MFA in design for stage and film from Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She is a guest lighting design instructor and lecturer at CalArts.

Peter Bayne (Sound Design/Original Music) returns to SCR, where he previously designed Office Hour and James and the Giant Peach. His other theatre credits include A Noise Within (The Tempest, You Can Never Tell), The Fountain Theatre (Baby Doll, Dream Catcher, Painter Rocks of Revolver Creek, Citizen, Reborning, The Brothers Size, Broomstick, In the Red and Brown Water, The Normal Heart, The Blue Iris, Cyrano, On the Spectrum, Bakersfield Mist, Opus, Coming Home, El Nogalar, Shining City), Antaeus Theatre Company (Cloud 9, Henry IV Part 1, The Liar, The Malcontent), Rubicon Theatre Company (Other Desert Cities), The Colony Theatre Company (Year Zero), The Actors’ Gang (Break the Whip), Rogue Machine Theatre (Lost Girls), Skylight Theatre Company (Forever House, Disconnection), Theatre of Note (Copy) and The Elephant Theatre Company (Unorganized Crime, Twilight of Schlomo, Parasite Drag, 100 Saints You Should Know, Revelation). His other regional credits include American Repertory Theater, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare and Company and Actors’ Shakespeare Project. Bayne is active as a composer in film and television. He produces dance music and performs in indie bands. He earned a BA in music from Vassar College and an MFA in composition and theory from Brandeis University. peterbayne.com

Sean T. Cawelti (Projection Design) graduated from the University of California, Irvine, with his BA in drama with honors in directing and studied puppetry at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. He is the founding artistic director of Rogue Artists Ensemble, a multi-media, puppet and mask company in Los Angeles. He has won awards for his work as a designer, director and playwright, honored with a UNIMA Citation of Excellence for Gogol Project and was presented the 2015 Sherwood Award by the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles for his work as a director. Cawelti was selected by the City of Los Angeles’ Cultural Affairs Department to travel to Brazil for two months to study woodcarving and Candomblé, a religion born of African and Catholic traditions. His directing and design work has been seen at the Getty Villa, SCR, Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Cornerstone Theater Company, Chicago Opera Theater, L.A. Theatre Works, Geffen Playhouse, New York City Opera, Imago Theatre in Portland and the Center for Puppetry Arts in Atlanta. He has designed puppets, masks, props and video for theatre, music videos, museums, concerts and arena shows including the recent Kanye West Yeezus world tour. seancawelti.com

Sammy Brown (Stage Manager) returns to SCR after previously assisting on The Madwoman in the Volvo. His off-Broadway credits include Summer Valley Fair (Theatre 3, New York Musical Theatre Festival) and The Old Man and the Old Moon (New Victory Theater). Brown has worked regionally with Laguna Playhouse, The Actors Fund in Los Angeles, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Williamstown Theatre Festival and Hope Summer Repertory. He holds a BS in stage management from the University of Evansville and an MFA in drama from the University of California, Irvine.

Montae Russell and Chris Butler in 'District Merchants.' Photo by Debora Robinson.
Akeem Davis, Rachel Esther Tate, Matthew Boston, Chris Butler, Montae Russell and Matthew Grondin in '​District Merchants.' Photo by Debora Robinson.
​Chris Butler, Helen Sage Howard Simpson and Kristy Johnson in ​​'District Merchants.' Photo by Debora Robinson.
Kristy Johnson, Akeem Davis, Rachel Esther Tate, Matthew Grondin, Matthew Boston, Montae Russell, Helen Sage Howard Simpson and Chris Butler in ​​'District Merchants.' Photo by ​Ben Horak.
Montae Russell and Chris Butler in 'District Merchants.' Photo by Debora Robinson.
Montae Russell and Matthew Boston in ​'District Merchants.' Photo by Debora Robinson.
Matthew Boston in ​'District Merchants.' Photo by Debora Robinson.
video video
From the Blog
District Merchants First NightSCR’s Julianne Argyros Stage Opens with District Merchants
A rousing standing ovation marked the First Night performance of Aaron Posner’s District Merchants. Read about it and see photos from the Cast Party.read more
A Reconstruction-Era RemixDistrict Merchants: A Reconstruction-Era Remix
Two merchants in the nation's capital work to make a better future after the Civil War. Find out more about these District Merchants.read more
Michael Michetti PodcastThe SCR Podcast: Director Michael Michetti
Director Michael Michetti talks about Aaron Posner and District Merchants in the SCR Podcast.listen now
The Cast of District MerchantsRole Call—Meet the Cast of District Merchants
Eight new and returning actors are featured in Aaron’s Posner’s new District Merchants. Meet them.read more
Patrick Stewart ShylockDrawn to Shylock
Shakespeare’s character of Shylock—The Merchant of Venice—is the lead character in Aaron Posner’s District Merchants. Shylock is complex and contradictory, qualities that draw actors to the role. Meet some of them.read more
Aaron PosnerA Masterful Playwright Reconstructs Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s plays have long-fascinated playwright Aaron Posner. But, The Merchant of Venice both pushed Posner away and drew him in. Find out he reconstructs Shakespeare.read more
Popular Media Inspired by ShakespearePopular Media Inspired by Shakespeare
Aaron Posner adapted Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice into a brand new play, District Merchants. What are some other of the Bard’s works that have been adapted? Read about them.read more
Wash Post ArticleComing to the Folger: The Merchant of . . . D.C.?
In District Merchants, ​Aaron Posner takes The Merchant of Venice to post-Civil War Washington, D.C., with hints at life in America today. Read more about his process to create this new play.read more
Aaron PosnerReconstructing Shakespeare to Post-Civil War D.C.
How did District Merchants come about? "A pound of flesh." That phrase from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice caught playwright Aaron Posner's attention. read more
Peek into the District Merchants program

​Talya Nevo-Hacohen & Bill Schenker
Samuel & Tammy Tang


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