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The Merchant of Gerlach

By Ludo the RFB
With apologies to William Shakespeare
(printable version)

Cast of Characters

Antonio: A long-time Burner of considerable means and even greater generosity. Best friend and benefactor of Bassanio.
Bassanio: Another long-time resident of Black Rock City, and dear friend of Antonio. He is young, naive, perpetually broke, and desperately in love with Portia
Portia: A young law student and courtesan at the Slut Hut in Back Rock City. She has many suitors, but is particularly fond of Bassanio.
Shylock: Owner of the Gerlach Grape Grotto, the only wine shop within miles of Black Rock City. He despises all Burners, but Antonio most of all.
BRC Postie: Volunteer at the Back Rock City Post Office
Courtesans: Fellow courtesans of Portia at the Slut Hut
Judge: Presides over the Court of the Burning Man.

Act I Scene I

Setting: The Gerlach Grape Grotto, a wine shop owned by Shylock.
Time: Two days before the burn

Basssanio: My dear Shylock, merchant most noble, I beseech thee in the name of mercy, goodness and love itself! Surely there must be some accord which we, as good gentles, may reach, by the designs of which I may procure yonder splendid vintage. I know, I know, though by the gods I desirer that I had not the knowledge, that my poor purse bears not the weight of such coin as so fine a nectar might command. And so I do beg of thee, look past the worldly worth of this wondrous wine, whit which I will woo and win the winsome woman whose world I worship, and for whose whispered word I would withstand any wound. Look past the price in pence and pounds, and accept the copious outpouring of my heart’s love as payment in full!
Shylock: Come now, dearest Bassanio, comport thyself not so. I commiserate with your plight, and my heart doth swell at your profession of purest love. After al, as Bacchus and Priapus are the closest of consorts, who better than I, an aficionado of wine, the nectar of love itself, to appreciate the fervent yearnings of a young lover’s desire.

Alas, the worldly worth of this wondrous wine, which you would ask me to dismiss, is akin to my life’s blood, without which I could not exist!
Bassanio: But the Burning Man has proved that the way of coin is folly! ‘Tis but by gifting that the purses of our hearts are filled!
Shylock: The outpouring of thy love-addled heart is no more filler for my purse that the issuance of thy loins is cream for my coffee! NO SALE!

(Antonio enters during above)

Antonio: How now, my fair Shylock? Why dost thou berate my dearest Bassanio so? Has he not the gold to pry this o’erpriced vinegar from thy greedy grasp?
Bassanio: Antonio! My dearest friend and benefactor!  (They embrace)  Well met, my Lord!
Antonio: My dear Bassanio, the greater joy is mine at this meeting. Prithee, tell me. What business hast thee with this usurer?
Bassanio: Ah, my Lord Antonio! My heart is full to bursting, for truly, I am in love!
Antonio: With Shylock????
Bassanio: Nay! With fair Portia, a courtesan at the Slut Hut. She is blessed with the face of an angel, and a body designed by Beelzebub himself! Pure of heart she is, yet lascivious in nature. She is as penniless as I, a simple student of the law. And yet, together we are wealthy as sultans in the surfeit riches of love!
Antonio: I am well pleased for thee. Pray, tell me more of this fair creature!

(Antonio and Bassanio continue in pantomime, with Bassanio demonstrating various sexual acts with Portia. Shylock comes downstage)

Shylock: Burners! Burners! How I do loathe them all! And this proud peacock, Antonio, do I despise above the rest! They give with no thought of reward or recompense. Without condition do they love. And more nookie do they enjoy in a fortnight than I have known since that noble Lord, Sir Richard of Nixon, held sway o’er this land! In sooth, nine pence of every ten that doth enrich my purse issues forth from their threadbare pockets.
Still, all their coin I would forgo,
and dwell in abject poverty
for just one chance to lay them low
and teach them true humility!

(Returns behind counter)

Antonio: This Portia sounds a wondrous creature indeed! But fie! What brings thee to this ill establishment?
Bassanio: Tonight I seek to woo and win fair Portia’s hand. As you may surmise, many a Lord in residence at Black Rock desires as I do. For all the favor this goddess has shown me, I dare not propose to be her one and only without some token of my affection. This wine  (takes bottle from counter)  is precious to my sweet. A product of her native Italy, I have oft heard her wax nostalgic of its virtues, as libation unparalleled, and as a touchstone to a life left behind. If I could but present one flagon of this vintage, her heart, and al the succulent bits that do surround it, would most assuredly be mine!
Antonio: I have no doubt of your success. But wherein lies the quandary? I know this wine - a fine vintage to be sure, but not overly dear in its native land. Surely, its passage to our shores has increased its cost but a tweak.
Bassanio: In other circumstance, you would speak true. Alas, there is but one bottle of this cherished libation in all of the western shire, and its master is none other than our fair merchant here. I fear that in my exuberance I may have spake overlong and overloving of my desire, nay desperate need to procure this treasure. And in response did noble Shylock hang this about my prize’s neck.

(Shows Antonio the price tag hanging about the bottle’s neck. Antonio recoils in horror. Shylock snickers.)

Antonio: Usurer! This is fully thrice the worth of this humble draught! How dare you prey upon this young lover’s need!
Shylock: Good sir, you cut me to the quick! A grave injustice have thou wrought upon my name. I assure you that the laws of the land, and of supply and demand, do argue in my favor.
Antonio: Mayhaps! But by the laws of common decency do I call thee villain!
Bassanio: Dear Antonio, waste not thy breath upon this wretch. The quest is lost, though the grail be within our grasp. Forgo the wine. I shall woo fair Portia with only my wit, my charm, and my smile to recommend me!

(Bassanio smiles foolishly. Antonio sees that his friend will need all the help he can get)

Antonio:  (aside)  Nay, my friend. Do you not see the mischief this devil conspires? He has neither love nor lover, and would consign you to his fate! You shall have this wine for your lady love, this I forswear, though its purchase may be more costly than even the fiend designs. I arrived only today, and deigned to bring no gold upon my person. Travel in this time is fraught with peril, and a wanderer and his money are oft parted. I have sent forward a considerable sum to the BRC Post Office, where it will arrive on the morrow. I will procure your sweetheart’s wine, at this villain’s cost, plus whatever he may demand for payment delayed. It shall be my wedding gift to thee and thine.

 (To Shylock)  Good sir, for my previous outburst, I do now offer my most humble apology. You are indeed well within your rights to fix the price of your wares as you see fit. What honest merchant would do otherwise?
Shylock: Tish tosh, my Lord. Think naught of it. Such reaction is not uncommon with the finer vintages. We call it “Sticker Shock”.
Antonio: The shock will wear away anon. And I would deign purchase said flagon on my dear friend’s behalf. I fear, however, that I must request one day’s indulgence for so dear a cost. My fortunes are in transit, and will be restored to me on the morrow. Like time and tide, love waits for no man. And so sweet Bassanio’s need is nigh. Whilst thou part with this wine on the strength of my bond that payment shall be fully rendered by sunset next?
Shylock: Oh my dear Lord, were it but up to me, thy noble bearing and reputation unsullied would suffice to secure such a pledge. Alas, our policy doth not permit the issuance of such a trust without more formidable collateral.
Antonio: And who, may I inquire, penned this policy?
Shylock: That would be me, m’Lord.
Uh huh. And what, pray tell, may ye require? All that I have you see before you.
Shylock: And that shall more than suffice, good sir, as our standard contract clearly states HAIR! (Pulls out very long contract scroll with yards of fine print)  that if the debt is not satisfied within the time decreed, the guarantor, ah, that would be you my lord, shall forfeit one pound of……..
Bassanio: Antonio! My dear friend! NO! I shall not allow it! T’would rather I should die withered and loveless than place in jeopardy thy flowing locks!
Antonio: Bassanio, my unquiet friend, fear not! My fortunes are assured. Let this twisted fiend grasp at his fantasies. He shall not touch a hair of my chinney-chin-chin.  (to Shylock)  Fair merchant, it is agreed. But do not set thy hopes on this fine plumage. Thy payment shall be made. Fetch me a quill!

(Antonio Signs at Shylock’s direction;  “Here… here.. and initial here.”  Antonio grabs the bottle, hands it to Bassanio, and throws an arm around his friend’s shoulder. Shylock picks up the contract, grinning.)

Antonio: And now, my friend, with wine in hand, we go to woo your bride!
Shyock: I’ve got him now! His very fate is for me to decide!
Bassanio: Soon you shall meet my Portia fair! Like me, you’ll be enthralled!
Shylock: Within two days, may Jove decree, Antonio will be bald!  (Laughs maniacally.) 

(All exeunt)

Act I Scene II

Setting:   The Slut Hut - Home of Portia
The Black Rock City Post Office
Time: The next day

(Bassanio arrives at the Slut Hut, and is greeted by Portia, flanked by two fellow courtesans.)

Portia: Good morrow, My lord. Prithee, what brings thee to our most modest dwelling?
Bassanio: Modest, say you, Milady? In faith, I pray thou dost speak in error! For modesty, that false denial of nature’s gifts, spawned by Satan’s shame and proselytized from the pulpit, is anathema to my cause.
Portia: And what, pray tell, might be thy cause, that causes thee to treat fair modesty so immodestly?
Bassanio: Why, love, my Lady, nothing more, for what upon this mortal coil is more than love. And nothing less, for my immodest heart will suffer nothing less than the issuance of the full flower of my feeling, the mother-lode of my manly lust, and the downpour of my desire. No false modesty will I abide. Nay! The love I seek is unashamed, uncensored, unexpurgated, unabridged, and unabashed!
Portia: My Lord, thou dost wax eloquent o’er what thy love is not. Dost thou not know what thy love is? All about the playa love abounds, in forms sacred and profane, and oft in violation of local governance. What of thy love, so o’er-expressed, and yet so ill-defined, doth raise it up above the rest, and make it worth my time?
Bassanio: My lady, thou dost cut me to the very quick. By stripping away all that my love is not, have I not laid it bare? My love is pure devotion to the lover, the surrender of my soul to her slightest whim. I do not give my love unto the other. Rather is it my love which giveth me, body, mind, and spirit, that I may be consumed by my lover, as I am by my love, and we shall be but as one.
Portia:  (Obviously impressed, as are her companions)  Oh, good sir, thy words do echo sweetly, and play upon our heartstrings as unto David’s lyre. And yet, they are but words, which vanish at the moment of their utterance. Pray, what token dost thou bring to add weight and substance to the zephyr wind of thy goodly speech?
Bassanio: Merely this, My Lady.  (Produces the wine. The ladies are even more impressed.)  A simple yet succulent vintage, noble in its heritage as my love is in its intent. Far traveled, as I have been in my search for true love, and destined to delight the senses, nourish the body, and give wings to the soul.
Thy love is true, as you declare.
And yet there hangs a mystery.
Which of these three good maids and fair
Wouldst thou desire to cleave to thee?

(Courtesans primp and preen, doing all they can to entice Bassanio, while Portia stands impassive.)

Bassanio:  (feigning indecision)  Ah, there’s the rub! For as a man has but one mind, one heart, one turgid staff, so must he take naught but one lover. And yet I see before me here three maidens fair, of such beauty, of such grace, as to sore confound the choosing. To say which star of noble Orion’s belt doth most gloriously grace the firmament would prove a far, far simpler task that that which dost vex me now.
Doth the beauty of one’s eyes outshine that of another?
Nay! For emerald, sapphire, ruby, all are gifts of the self-same mother!
Dost one pair of rounded globes surpass the other four?
Nay! For each fair pair entices me to suckle and adore!
Or doth one curve of graceful hip, or swell of girlish rear
Give me pause and give me cause one only to endear?
Nay! Within each grove of parted thigh,
the self-same treasure doth reside;
The peachfish, with it’s nectar sweet !
A welcome sheath for manly meat!
Oh Fie! This fanciful charade I can no more endure.
‘Tis you, fair Portia, and no other, that I do adore
Accept this token of my love, banish all my sorrow,
And promise true, as sun doth rise, that we shall wed tomorrow!
My sweetest love, how could I but accept thy gentle plea?
Yes, I say, I will be thine, and thou belong to me.
On the morrow, on the Playa, you and I shall wed.
And in the eve, as man doth burn, you and I shall bed.
Courtesan 1: Oh, Sister, Fie! Bereft again! Why must we bear such torture?
Courtesan 2: In sooth, why must it always be Portia, Portia, Portia!

(Courtesans exeunt. Bassanio and Portia embrace and freeze.)

(Shift focus to BRC Post Office. Postie arrives with a box of letters and begins to sort them. Picks up one envelope, and out drops money)

Postie: Alas! What is this? A token of the capitalist idolaters? Here? At Black Rock City?? But this cannot be, for this is a gifting economy!
As all who come here know full well, the quality of gifting is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle (if infrequent) rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest. It blesseth him that gives, and him that takes. Tis mightiest in the mightiest. It becomes the throned monarch better than his crown, and the dusty burner better than his purse! Must now our gifting utopia suffer the taint of the purchaser’s putrid paper? Fie, I say!
 (Picks up envelope)  Antonio? I know not this man! Known or not known, I shall not permit his rank consumerism to infect this sacred place!  (Sets the money aflame)  As the Man burns, so must all he rails against be set aflame! Come, Antonio! And behold thy ill gotten gains, for all that they are worth!  (Drops flaming money into bowl and watches it burn.) 

(Shift focus back to Bassanio and Portia.)

Come, my love, we must away, my kinsman for to find.
Antonio, my friend most dear, a gentleman most kind.
To his fair ear shall we proclaim our joyful wedding song.
For truly, love is in the air! Now nothing can go wrong!

(All exeunt)

Act II Scene I

Location: On the playa
The Black Rock City Post Office
Time: Later that same day

(Antonio stands upon the playa, outside the Black Rock City Post Office. Bassanio and Portia enter.)

Bassanio: Sweet Portia, behold my kinsman, Antonio. A dearer friend or kindlier benefactor has no man. Antonio!  (They run to him)  Antonio, my lord, my liege, my savior! Before you stands the happiest man in all burningdom! All my prayers are answered, all my dreams brought through the veil to manifest in this goodly life, for my lady love has acquiesced, and on the morrow we shall wed! But I am remiss! My lord Antonio, may I present the fount of my desire, and the wellspring of my rapture, the Lady Portia.
Antonio: My most beloved and exuberant friend, though thou didst oft profess, at great length and in words angelic, of thy lady’s beauty, still, I must chastise thee soundly! For thou hast done her ill justice. My lady, I am overwhelmed.  (Antonio kisses Portia’s hand.) 
Portia: My lord, ‘tis I to whom the honor falls. For by my true love’s word, thou art the friend to which all who wouldst call themselves friend must aspire.
Antonio: Those whom Bassanio loves, he does honor well, for which we may both rejoice. Bassanio, dear friend, can you hear it? ‘Tis the song of my joyful heart. That thou hast found and won thy love, and I have played a meager part.

(Enter Shylock)

Shylock: And so, my lord Antonio. Now that thou hast played the part, art thou prepared to pay the part?
Antonio: Ah, Master Shylock! Well met, noble merchant! How good you’ve come to share in our dear friends great fortune! For while you are here, of purely altruistic motive I do not doubt, we may settle this paltry matter of payment for a simple bottle of wine. Pray, sally forth with me to yon Post Office, there to retrieve my fortunes, and you your ransom!
 (They go to the Post Office Window) 
My good sir! I believe thou hast a parcel for one Antonio. Prithee fetch it hence!
Postie:  (recoiling at the name)  Ah! A parcel, you say?
Antonio: Yes, good servant, a parcel.
Postie: For “Antonio”, was it?
Antonio: It was, and is, but may not be till conversation’s end if thou dost dither longer!
Postie: A thousand pardons, my lord. I have seen a parcel so described, and must simply lay hands upon it!  (rifles through the box of envelopes. Stops.)  Art thou sure thou wouldst not prefer an O-gram?
Antonio: Good sir, I beseech thee! I am in earnest, and in some haste. Hast thou my parcel or nay?
Postie: Be at peace, My lord! The desert’s heat bears no latitude for tempers hot.  (Finds the envelope)  Alas! Here it is, or so pretends to be. For on it’s face, quite clearly writ, “Antonio” I see.
Antonio:  (Reaching for the letter)  Deliver it hence, good sir.
Postie:  (Pulling the letter back)  Hast thou three forms of identification, my lord?
Antonio:  (outraged, yet composed)  Hast thou a looking glass?
Postie: Why, yes, My lord.  (Produces a mirror and hands it to Antonio) 
Antonio:  (Primps a bit in the mirror)  Aha! “Tis as I suspected! That is indeed the fair lord Antonio! I would recognize me anywhere!  (hands the mirror back to the Postie.) 
Postie: Well done, my lord! And now we have two forms; one in flesh, and one in glass. But wherefore shall we secure the third?  (To Shylock)  Good merchant? Wilst thou swear, upon thy oath, that this gentleman is indeed Antonio?
Shylock:  (sensing an out)  Young master, ‘tis true that I have oft heard this fine gentleman referred to by that name. But what one hears and what is God’s truth, are not the thing self-same. Alas, I cannot bind my solemn oath to such a claim.

(Bassanio and Portia come forward)

Bassanio:  (to Shylock)  Villain! My lord’s good name was well enough known to thee when thou did make thy loathsome pact! But now that it profits thee not, he is unknown to thee?

 (to the Postie)  This good gentleman is indeed Antonio, my kinsman for many a year, and my friend unto death. Upon my life and lands I swear it!
Portia: And I as well, though newly met, will swear on my name, my virtue, my life itself, that none other than lord Antonio stands before thee!
Postie: In the face of such surfeit of recognition, how can I refuse. My lord Antonio, your parcel. May it serve you well!  (hands the envelope to Antonio) 
Antonio:  (to Shylock)  And now, fiend, shall you be paid and dismissed!  (Tears open the envelope, and deposits the contents, ashes, into his hand. Antonio, Bassanio, and Portia are shocked. Shylock is beside himself. The Postie continues sorting mail, whistling guiltily.) 
Shylock: I fear, my noble lord, that the dust you hold in your hand is not the coin of the realm. The contract is forfeit! And I shall have my penalty!  (Pulls out the electric shears and turns them on.) 
Portia: HOLD!  (She circles Shylock as she speaks, stealing the contract from his back pocket at some point.)  You are not in Gerlach, merchant, but in Black Rock City. All disputes must be heard before the court of the Burning Man. If thy claim is just, thou shalt have thy penalty. But heaven help thee if it is not! We shall meet at dawn, before the Burning Man!
Shylock:  (Turning off the shears)  So be it! I shall plead before thy court. Because I know my cause is just, my contract quite secure. And when my cause is proven thus, my wrath you shall endure!

(Shylock exits.)

Portia:  (Holding the pilfered contract aloft)  And now, good gentles, come away. Tonight we must prepare! Tomorrow is the Judgment Day! We must save this man’s hair!

(All exeunt)

Act II Scene II

Location: The Court before the Burning Man
Time: The next morning.
Judge: All rise before the Court of the Burning Man. Come forward and ye shall be heard.
Shylock: My gracious lord, if it doth please the court, we have here but a simple breech of contract. That which was promised has not been given. And that which was foresworn must now be paid. If thou wilst but peruse, with thy most learned eye, This most straightforward document, Which I…. Which I… (finding the contract gone from his pocket)  I Have been Robbed!
Portia:  (Holding the contract)  Is this the document you seek, Merchant?  (Hands him the contract)  Is villainy not vice enough for thee? Must thou also careless be?
Shylock:  (Snatching the contract from Portia. To judge.)  Most wise and honored judge, in this writ, it doth decree that should payment promised by Lord Antonio not be made by sundown last, (And it was NOT!) Then I as aggrieved creditor, shall be entitled to the forfeit of one pound of… HAIR!
Bassanio: My lord, if I may speak. This debt, this inhuman debt, was incurred on my behalf by the noblest and most honorable man ever to walk this playa. And on his behalf, I offer all I have. My purse alone will not satiate his debt, nor my head yield the required ransom of his forfeit. And yet, I would forfeit purse and hair, and head itself, if it will spare my kinsman from this judgment.
Portia: Nay, my love, this I cannot allow!  (to judge)  My lord, I offer twice, nay thrice, nay tenfold what this fair citizen owes. Surely, Master Shylock, that shall satisfy thy greed!
Bassanio: My sweet! Thy love of me, and of my kinsman, hast confounded thy reason! Thou art as penniless as myself! How canst thou pledge that which thou dost not possess?
Portia: Dearest Bassanio, I pray that when I reveal myself to thee, which now I must, that you will still love the two-headed Janus to whom thou hast pledged thy troth. I have deceived thee, my love. No pauper am I, but the heiress to a fortune vast. I must now confess. The finest chariots in all of Italy are conceived by my family’s design, and constructed by their skill.
Antonio & Bassanio:  (Together)  Porche’!!!!
Shylock: Enough! My bond is not with the house of Portia, nor of Bassanio. ‘Tis Lord Antonio who has sworn this debt, and the time for its payment is quite past! The forfeit, also, has he, and he alone forsworn, that by my hand he shall be full shorn!  (pulls out clippers and turns them on) 
Portia: He speaks full true, oh noble judge. The payment has been forfeit. Dearest Antonio, prepare thy crown. And weep not for the foliage thou hast lost, but for the happiness your sacrifice has gained!

Antonio removes his hat, and bows toward Shylock, who advances menacingly with the clippers.)

And now, at last, the time is nigh, and vengeance shall be mine
For decades of subservience; now recompense sublime!
By shaving every follicle from this foul burner’s head,
I desecrate each one of them, and fill them all with dread!

(Shylock advances on Antonio, clippers buzzing.)

Portia: Tarry a little.
Shylock:  (startled)  Eeeeex…….cuse me?
Portia: There is something else. This bond doth give thee here no jot of dandruff. The words expressly say “One pound of hair”. Take then thy bond. But if in the cutting of it, thou dost shed one flake of withered scalp, one speck of off-cast flesh from this fair citizen, thy lands, thy goods are by the laws of Black Rock City forfeit unto the playa.

(Antonio shakes his head, which emits a cloud of dandrufft.)

Judge: So let it be written. So let it be done!
Shylock: Nay! Nay! My Lady! My Lords! I am a reasonable man, and will show mercy! I do believe tenfold the price was offered. I accept!  (Scowls from all - Cries of “NO!” from the audience)  No? Thrice then?  (more scowls, more cries)  Twice, then, and I shall be on my way!
Judge: Nay! Thou hast refused all worthy offerings, and held steadfast to thy demand for unholy recompense! By your intent, you have violated the right and flesh of a citizen of Black Rock City! And thus, by our law, are all thy lands and goods forfeit unto the playa!
Shylock:  (Falls to the floor)  NOOOOOOOOOOO!
Antonio: Your Honor, if I may intercede. We, the citizens of Black Rock City, owe a great debt to the good people of Gerlach. Indeed, without their kindness and hospitality, this fair city could not exist. Therefore, in honor of the un-payable debt that we owe the citizens of this fair city, I beseech that this court show mercy upon this wayward soul. Take not this poor wretch’s lands, nor his property.
Shylock: A David has come into this court! A Solomon! Bless your wisdom, and your mercy, my lord, and may your will be done!
Antonio: However, that he may learn the joy of gifting, I beg the court to implore master Shylock, with all the sanctions at your command, that he supply such wine as may be required to properly toast the nuptials of Lord Bassanio and Lady Portia this very evening!
Shylock: All the wine!!! But there are 35,000 people here!!!!
Antonio: Thou worries overmuch, master Shylock! I hear tell that half of them are beer drinkers!
Judge: If you feel yourself ill used, Master Shylock, we can always revert to thy original sentence.
Shylock: No! No! Your honor. Wine shall flow…. A-plenty.
Judge: It is so ordered! Court is adjourned!  (bangs gavel) 
And so, my friends, our story ends. But with what lesson learned?
That if you screw with love’s true course, you surely will be burned!
And if your hearts true happiness lies in what can be bought.
You’ll miss the one true lesson that every year is taught.
Upon this playa, bursting forth with sweet community
We care for each and every friend and stranger equally.
So love thyself, and one another
Take care of everyone.
And do it with no more from us.
For our time here is done.