Orson Welles – just the name alone elicits an emotional reaction from any reader. The reactions range from a deep understanding and appreciation to a simple “isn’t that the guy who…?”. If you fall into either category, fear not: The Shylock Project’s self-proclaimed “Docu-Fantasy Radio Play” entitled Orson Welles/Shylock is the show for you. Dive in the as four actors navigate the career and life of the late Welles, from the days when he was referred to as a “boy genius” to his passing in 1985, exploring how the man became the household name he is today.
Very much in parallel to Orson himself, The Shylock Project has toured all over, from as far as Italy where the show was first premiered to New York, across the United States, the Toronto Fringe, and lastly, right here at our own St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival. This is a testament not only to the popularity of the late American actor/director/writer, but to the relevance of the play itself.
The production has little in terms of set, but with the creative use of projections, shadow puppetry, masks, scattered papers, and other available props, the stage feels anything but sparse. More than once the projector was used to create the atmosphere of an old Hollywood movie (the kind that Welles would frequently appear in). This, paired with the actors’ hustling across the stage in imitation of a film set, gave this reviewer the feeling of being right in the thick of it with Orson himself.
As is depicted in the title, the play explores Welles as well as his fascination with the role of Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The script weaves together actual quotes from Welles himself as well as snippets of all of Shylock’s famous lines. In doing this the audience is made to look at the two men, one fictional and the other simply devoted to the retelling of the fictitious. When the two are held together in such a light as this, we can’t help but see the similarities and understand how such a wide variety of audiences have connected with this piece.
The three lead male actors – Fred Pienkoski, Vincent Randazzo and Matt Chiorini (the latter being this play’s director as well) – take their respective turn playing the title character as he progresses through the years. The transitions from one Orson to the next are seamless and made it immediately clear who was who. Each of these performers offered a unique quality to the role that highlighted both the character’s age as well as his state of mind at that point in his life. The production, however, shines most with Chiorini as Orson in his latest years. While the play itself is very quick paced (spanning the 70 years of Welles’ life in a mere 70 minutes), Chiorini takes his time and delivers the fiery passion of the character with an economy of movement and maturity of the late artist himself.
Special mention goes out to Jennifer Radford and the publicity pod for putting together a very amusing playbill and really setting the scene before the play has even begun. At the end of the playbill we are bid to spread the word and get people to attend their show. Suggestions on how to do so include “Build a giant monument to Orson and dance around it” or simply to name your unborn children either Orson or Shylock. This reviewer hopes that his writing is sufficient seeing as how he is not very good at sculpting or birthing children.
If you have ever been curious about just who was Orson Welles or you simply want to enjoy a well-executed play by talented actors, then head down to the Black Theatre workshop and see Orson Welles/Shylock at the Fringe running from June 8th to the 18th.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Fringe Contributor David Hudon
The Shylock Project presents “Orson Welles/Shylock”
When: June 8 – 18, 2017
Where: Black Theatre Workshop Studio, 3680 Jeanne-Mance
Duration: 70 minutes
Tickets: www.montrealfringe.ca | 514.849.FEST (3378)
Official Media Partner of the 2017 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival