Catholic University's "The Merchant of Venice," which countinues through Saturday at the Hartke, is a graceful production with some virtues and a reminder of last fall's generally undervalued Arnold Wesker variation, "The Merchant" at the Kennedy Center. Wesker's enrichment of the Venetian texture was lauded by some critics, but the death of Zero Mostel, its promised star, deflated interest.

Essentially a romantic comedy, Shakespare's story of a Venetian heiress and her choice of husband is more concerned with her than with the merciless usurer who insists on his pound of flesh.

The resulting character, Portia, is one of the loveliest of all Shakespare's women. Somehow CU actresses always seem overshadowed in casting by the men, but Portia gives Collen M. Gaughan fine display. With good diction, poise and intelligence, she portrays the spirited humor of the farsighted Portia in the best performance by a CU actress in some time.

Director William Graham has been wise in his use of greedy Shylock, Tony DiDio Jr., playing him as a comparatively young man, naturally embittered at how Christian Venice has treated his fellow Jews but never suggesting the typical over the individual.

Carolynne Darling's airy arches provide a spacious, economical unit set, and once again Christopher Clark, through his spirited Gratiano, is revealed as an actor of distinct and comfortable ease.

The reviewer was unable to see a production of "The Merchant of Venice" at George Washington University because of last week's American College Theater Festival. The two productions would have been interesting to compare.