When Director of Theatre Matt Chiorini was asked to put together an “American take” on William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice two years ago, he was stumped. He wondered if there was anything to be added to Merchant, anything that had not already been explored. Then he stumbled upon the story of classical actor Orson Welles’ numerous failed attempts to portray the play’s antagonist – Shylock. It was a “small, mysterious footnote in (Welles’) vast body of work” that Chiorini was eager to explore. It served as the source of inspiration for his own original work, Orson Welles/Shylock, which details the late actor’s fascination with the role that eluded him.
This summer Chiorini – along with a team of Le Moyne alumni and students that included Vincent Randazzo ’15, Brittany Fayle ’17 and Drew Gripe ’16 – performed the play at the Toronto Fringe Festival, which hosts hundreds of theatre, dance, music, comedy, improv and performance art pieces over a period of two weeks. Orson Welles/Shylock was one of only four full-length international plays accepted into the prestigious showcase.
From the start Chiorini recognized that “when most people think of Welles, they either think of him as the genius behind Citizen Kane and War of the Worlds or giant bearded joke in the commercials with the deep voice.” Chiorini realized that Welles was “both of those, and so much more.” Like Shylock, Welles could be villainous, charismatic and clever. Chiorini wanted his play to reflect that dichotomy. Rather than sitting down to write a traditional theatre script, he wanted to use Welles’ own words and others those used to describe him. One colleague referred to the actor as “an octopus of an ego,” which Chiorini called “a line so perfect that I could have never written it in 50 years.”
“The final version of the play connects 70 years worth of anecdotes, quotes, interviews, reviews, and lines from Merchant into a fast moving and very theatrical narrative,” he said. “It’s been like building something out of Legos.”
Orson Welles-Shylock – which also enjoyed the assistance of the marketing team of Tom Vazquez ’17, Marisa Valent ’17, Bridget Kenney ’17, Emily Cook ’18 and Carolee Emmi ’18 from the arts administration program – earned some of the festival’s highest praise. It was chosen as one of the “Best o' the Fringe” and a “Critics Pick” by Now Toronto Magazine which declared: “"Thunderous applause greeted the cast of Orson Welles/Shylock after their opening night show, and it was well-deserved.”
Minds at Work