By Suzi Brozman / sbrozman@atljewishtimes.com

Doug Kaye plays Shylock. (photo by Jeff Watkins)

Doug Kaye plays Shylock. (photo by Jeff Watkins)

“Sufferance is the badge of all our tribe,” Shylock says. Can any words be truer? We accept persecution even when we haven’t earned it.

Perhaps such insight is what makes Shakespeare so great: He just knows how to sum up people. Or so thinks veteran actor Doug Kaye.

This is a man who knows his Shylock. The New American Shakespeare Tavern staging is his seventh production of “The Merchant of Venice” in some 50 years of acting.

He knew it was his time when he was given the part several years ago. “I try to present a man who makes a mistake. I’ve tried to find that proper balance. Shylock is a man who has his reasons, is driven too far. He makes a fatal mistake and doesn’t back off when he should.”

Kaye plays the part with dignity and humanity — even, or especially, when he finds his daughter has escaped to marry a Christian.

“In the 1700s an actor played it for sympathy, making him a tragic hero. Shakespeare never really said this is going to be a tragedy. He always had lightness to balance it out, even if it’s dark comedy,” Kaye said. “We really can’t see faces, body language, from on the stage, but we can hear audiences gasp or cry.”

He said “Romeo and Juliet” similarly is a comedy “until people start dying — people are offended by the laughing.”

Kaye said Shakespeare was writing about people and circumstances, not about how his plays fit into categories. “It doesn’t matter what he meant in the plays,” Kaye said. “It’s all about what you’re getting out of it. Productions in the last 400 years have tried to narrow it, but the most successful leave it open to your own interpretations and feelings.”

He noted how widely the interpretations of Shakespeare range. “Merchant” was a great hit with a purely evil Shylock in Nazi Germany, and the show is a huge hit in Israel.