What makes a Shakespearean character “good” or “bad”? In much of my work with Pigeon Creek this issue doesn’t arise: I tend to present as a relatively genial, like-able guy, and the majority of my roles so far accept and play with that reality.
Romeo and Juliet is different. First, I’m cast in one and only one role, Lord Capulet (that happens rarely). Second, the role is not, on first examination, sympathetic. While actors tend to want to play villains, since the received wisdom is that they’re more fun and more interesting, I’ve not had much experience in that line. (Speak with me after the run of the show and I’ll let you know if I agree with “the received wisdom”.)
So, what’s a performer to do? To begin with, few characters (like real human beings) consider themselves “evil” (there are exceptions, but Capulet is not one of them). Therefore, I must discover the things Juliet’s dad wants most in the play, identify how he plans to obtain them, and absorb the ways in which he uses others to achieve his goals. The things he wants are not all that remarkable: a happy home, a successful marriage for his daughter, an assured future for his family. As an actor (and a person of a certain age), it is not difficult to agree with his objectives. My task is to portray his actions on stage in a way that the audience understands that he does what he does for a reason. They don’t have to agree with his actions, but they should comprehend, at least in part, why he acts.
If I am successful in investing Lord Capulet with sincere motives and honorable desires, the audience should sympathize with the character at the same time they may disagree with what he does to achieve his goals. At the very best, by the end of the drama they will agree with me that the title should be “The Tragedy of Lord Capulet And His Family” (with appearances by Montagues only when absolutely necessary…)