Not far into Orson Welles/Shylock, Welles says of his critics, “They don’t review my films, they review me.” Call this the crux of The Shylock Project’s wide-eyed and tender stage/radio play about the genius of the man who gave us Citizen Kane.
The play imagines parallels between Welles’ unapologetic trust in his artistic vision and Shylock from The Merchant of Venice, whom Welles played in his allegedly stolen 1969 film adaptation. Moneylender Shylock seeks revenge on an anti-Semitic client for a defaulted loan, but ends up being conned out of more money than he’s owed and forced to convert to Christianity.
Welles’ world must have also seemed cosmically against him, his career bogged down by conservative backers made anxious by his eccentric lifestyle and perfectionist aesthetic. But unlike Shylock’s tragic fate, OW/S retains Welles’ dignity in not relenting in the pursuit of his own good opinion and self-financing when he had to.
OW/S is performed by four actors in total – three who play Welles at varying points from childhood to mid-career.
All four actors play over a dozen of his family members, lovers and colleagues, creating a cracked open portrayal, as each character provides unique insight into the infamous auteur.
Drew Gripe imbues the young Welles with an assured sense of idealism and a trust in it as disarming as a sanctuary.
Vincent Randazzo’s Welles comes to consciousness of the world’s fascination with his personality, and meets it with the patient, nobly stubborn shrug he claims to have been born with.
Brittany Fayle is indelible as Welles’ mistress, Oja, and his mother, Beatrice, whose brief appearance influences her son’s behavior in self-destructive ways that he doesn’t allow himself to see.
Chiorini’s is perhaps the most happy portrayal for Welles' resignation to the “honest whoring” of his celebrity to do commercials that give him the financial independence to shoot pictures as he intends.
As director, Chiorini needs very little to trick fiction and reality onto the same stage. Two chairs, a box, darkness and some flashlights are all it takes to turn Welles’ first arrival to Hollywood into a sublime godly apparition.
The actors carry scripts and sometimes read into a vintage vocal microphone just like a radio drama. This justifies seeing the play live by engaging our active involvement in building the story in our imaginations. For a city often awash in theatre that’d be better served on film, Orson Welles/Shylock is a wondrous addition to this year’s Fringe.
Orson Welles/Shylock runs until July 10 at the Factory Theatre Studio. For more information, please visit FringeToronto.com.