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The Merchant of Venice

nytheatre.com q&a preview by Dominic Cuskern
July 3, 2013

What is your job on this show?
Actor.

What is your show about?
The two worlds of Antonio and Shylock collide in The Merchant of Venice and perhaps more than any other play of Shakespeare's it deals with issues that we sruggle with today: issues of race, anti-Semitism and gender and economic inequality.

Where were you born? Where were you raised? Where did you go to school?
I was born and raised in Wallsend-on-Tyne. It's where the Roman wall ended in the North East of England. I went to St Cuthbert's Grammar School in Newcastle-on-Tyne; the same school as Sting attended although he's a little older than me.

Who is more important in the theater: the actor, the playwright, or the director?
Playwrights are the Gods of our universe; without them there would be no actors, directors, designers or audiences. However I do believe all of us have something important to offer. I think good actors are very important to a playwright. If Hamlet had first been performed by lousy actors I doubt that anyone would have spotted it as a masterpiece.

Is there a particular moment in this show that you really love or look forward to? Without giving away surprises, what happens in that moment and why does it jazz you?
I do have a favorite moment when I am playing Shylock. It is a moment with Tubal when we see him vulnerable; suddenly his past emotional and family life is opened up for us. He becomes tender and not at all about money.

Which character from a Shakespeare play would like your show the best: King Lear, Puck, Rosalind, or Lady Macbeth -- and why?
Probably King Lear. Look at how his daughters treated him (well two of them) and look at how Jessica treated Shylock. Little baggage!

Can theater bring about societal change? Why or why not?
Theater can bring about social change because it can change human hearts. Of all the arts, theater shows us people behaving and sounding like we do in our lives. We identify with them and through language and imagination (and to me that is the essence of theater) playwrights can change the world one audience member at a time. I remember a play I saw by Albert Innaurato called "Ulysses in Traction" One character said to another, "Take this hand" and the other asked "Why?" She replied ,"Because it is connected to me." I broke up and was changed.