Shakespeare for the Masses is back to cure the January doldrums by demanding from you a pound of flesh. Well, not literally, as all performances are free of charge and cruelty to audiences is strictly forbidden. The group revises and updates the Shakespearean canon and creates hour-long shows fueled by the poetic license of Nicole Galland and Chelsea McCarthy.

This time they take aim at The Merchant of Venice, hence the pound of flesh reference, which Shylock demanded as collateral for a loan.

The play does not arrive without a whiff of controversy, as the loan shark villain of the play is a Jewish character and fingers have been pointed at the Bard for anti-semitism.

“We’ve done a drastic edit,” Ms. Galland said regarding the troublesome nature of the play. “And a lot of what is happening on stage is commentary on the original text, as opposed to a depiction of the original text. It’s the most meta-Shakespeare we’ve ever done.”

When planning for the play began last spring, Leslie J. Stark was to have performed the role of Shylock. Mr. Stark died this past summer, leaving a sad hole in many roles across the Island. Mr. Stark walked, ran and sang in shoes no one can really fill.

Enter Arnie Reisman.

“Nicole and Chelsea asked me to fill in for Leslie and I asked them how they were envisioning the play, ” Mr. Reisman said. “They said it will be a comedy before we are done with it, so I said okay.”

Mr. Reisman also asked the duo what his research for the part should be. “Are you thinking Al Pacino or Mel Brooks?” he asked.

Mr. Reisman said their answer was “Yes,” which he interpreted to be somewhere in the middle — a Mel Pacino offering if you will.

And so there you have it, a Merchant of Venice that is funny, sped up and free — but a pound of donations always helps the theatre troupe.

Showtimes are on Saturday, Jan. 9, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 10, at noon, both shows at the Vineyard Playhouse, 24 Church street, Vineyard Haven.

For more information, visit or call 508-696-6300.