War­ren Kim­mel takes on a dif­fi­cult char­ac­ter

> BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The Georgia Straight - - Arts -

Shylock, in Wil­liam Shake­speare’s The Mer­chant of Venice, is not a part that War­ren Kim­mel feels he was born to play. But he is play­ing it, in Bard on the Beach’s pro­duc­tion of the cen­turies-old clas­sic, and the task has brought with it un­ex­pected pains and also un­ex­pected plea­sures.

“I’ve never done Shylock, and it wasn’t one of the roles where I thought, ‘Oh, I’d love to do that,’ ” the South African–born ac­tor re­ports, check­ing in with the Straight dur­ing a re­hearsal break at the BMO The­atre Cen­tre. “But I am Jewish, and I’m of a cer­tain age now, so it seemed to make sense… I must say that I prob­a­bly tor­tured my­self about how to do it more than any other thing I’ve done, just be­cause it’s so well-known—and it’s a dif­fi­cult play, quite anti-semitic, and you’ve got to de­cide what you’re go­ing to do with that.”

Most ac­tors, he adds, would be in­clined to soft-pedal Shake­speare’s El­iz­a­bethan big­otry by play­ing the tit­u­lar an­ti­hero as a sym­pa­thetic fig­ure, one cursed not by his own pride and avarice but by the so­cial mores of the Bard’s day. That’s not Kim­mel’s tack, how­ever, and in that he’s aided by a lo­cal play­wright’s as­tute anal­y­sis—but also bur­dened by the dou­ble work­load of be­ing in two plays at once.

In The Mer­chant of Venice, he’s play­ing Shylock, but in Van­cou­ver au­thor Mark Leiren-young’s 1996 one-han­der, Shylock, he’s play­ing an ac­tor who’s play­ing Shylock in a pro­duc­tion of Shake­speare’s con­tro­ver­sial clas­sic. Both plays are run­ning con­cur­rently at Bard on the Beach. Still with us?

The cir­cu­lar logic of this ar­range­ment is un­de­ni­able. For one thing, no mat­ter where he’s at in his work­ing day, Kim­mel’s go­ing to be in char­ac­ter. And for an­other, he ap­pre­ci­ates the chal­lenge—al­though it has some side ef­fects.

“To do this mono­logue is in­sane,” he says, re­fer­ring to Shylock. “Like, you kind of go, ‘Oh, that would be so wonderful,’ and as with any au­di­tion you think, ‘Oh, I’d be per­fect for that part.’ And then you ac­tu­ally do it, and you think, ‘Oh my god, I’m use­less. I don’t know how to do this! What the hell am I go­ing to do?’ And this is very much that. It’s 80 min­utes of just me, talk­ing.…so I’ve had a week and a bit to learn it, and I feel like I’m back in drama school, where you might be do­ing three, four, five, or six plays at a time.”

Aid­ing the process is that Kim­mel finds Leiren-young’s writ­ing both el­e­gant and thought-pro­vok­ing. “He’s re­ally come at it from all sorts of dif­fer­ent an­gles. And I think that, as with any good writ­ing—and it is good writ­ing—it seems to be ap­pli­ca­ble to now.

“Prej­u­dice, and the love of money and power: all these things are so top­i­cal now. The idea of whether we should tear down stat­ues be­cause of what they rep­re­sent or whether that’s eras­ing his­tory and shouldn’t be done: that’s what the play’s about. Should we stop do­ing The Mer­chant of Venice be­cause it’s a hate­ful piece, or do you do it specif­i­cally be­cause it is a hate­ful piece?”

For now, Kim­mel’s in the lat­ter camp—and he’s found an ally in Leiren-young.

“The thrust of the play Shylock is that the role was writ­ten by Shake­speare in the same way that he wrote Richard III as a vil­lain, and Iago as a vil­lain,” the ac­tor ar­gues. “And just be­cause you don’t like the fact that peo­ple used to be anti-semitic doesn’t mean that you should play him the op­po­site way to how he was writ­ten. He’s a vil­lain, so make him a re­ally good vil­lain! And I would not have done that with­out this other role.”

Shylock

Ac­tor War­ren Kim­mel says play­ing the con­tro­ver­sial ti­tle char­ac­ter in has brought both un­ex­pected pains and un­ex­pected plea­sures. David Blue photo.

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