Part one of a three-part series on Oscar-winning actor F. Murray Abraham
By Alyssa Mulligan
Sitting in the Semel Theatre on Emerson’s campus with fellow students and faculty, I anxiously await the presence of the Oscar-winning actor who has appeared in over 200 plays and films in his career: the captivating F. Murray Abraham. He enters, and his charisma permeates the room as the discussion unfolds like an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio. Almost immediately, the conversation steers toward Abraham’s latest project of portraying Shylock in The Merchant of Venice scheduled for its Boston premiere March 29-April 10 at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.
This is a role that Abraham is no stranger to. In fact, in 2007 Abraham simultaneously depicted two notorious Jewish stage characters, both Shylock and Barabas in Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. The difference between the two characters? Abraham explains that, “No one remembers Barabas; everyone knows Shylock…or they think they do.” He is excited to reprise the role of Shylock and believes that the best part about coming back to a character is that during the interim, other information has come to mind in his subconscious. Now is his chance to put those musings back into action, while also continuing to develop a “kinship” to other actors who have played the role throughout the years.
Abraham enthusiastically proclaims that Merchant is “not just about anti-Semitism…it is much bigger than that,” which is in part why its popularity has spanned centuries. When questioned about how he delves into Shylock’s character (especially considering his infamous desire for a pound of flesh), Abraham explains how he always starts with himself and his instincts: “I know I am capable of that kind of revenge. Shylock is me. You are [capable of that kind of revenge], too.” Shylock’s “fulcrum” is his daughter, Abraham further explains. Once his daughter betrays him, all justice goes out the window. On the memorable scene where Shylock discovers his daughter’s intentions, Abraham reveals that “Every time I do that scene, it breaks my heart.”
Be sure to catch Abraham’s reprisal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, coming to Boston starting March 29!