San Diego Rep’s Luck Of The Irish
Actor Armin Shimerman considers himself a lucky man. From his first professional show in Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor to his most recent dramatic role in the Irish tale of The Seafarer – both performed on the San Diego stage – lady luck has had major influences in his theatrical career.
Shimerman joins the cast of The Seafarer, running at the San Diego Repertory Theatre through Dec. 13. It’s a haunting and hilarious show that has become a holiday hit on stages across the country since its Broadway debut in 2007.
But before he could join the current play, he had to experience some good – and bad – luck on another San Diego stage 35 years ago. Shimerman started his career with an apprentice role at The Old Globe Theatre. He was fresh out of college; he even had to reschedule a final exam to make the Globe audition.
“I had auditioned for the Globe, later to find out that there were 800 applicants vying for eight (apprentice) positions that were available that summer,” he said. “I was enormously fortunate to get one of those eight positions.”
Shimerman performed minor parts in three Shakespearean plays for the Globe’s summer festival, all performed in repertory: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Richard III and Merry Wives of Windsor. Two lucky strikes would hit him during that summer, events that would change his career in very dramatic ways.
“As luck would have it – and luck has permeated my life, all my life – one of the actors got a TV pilot and could not finish out the season,” Shimerman recalled. “Craig Noel, who was the artistic director at the time, called me into his office and very nicely said, ‘Armin, we’ve really enjoyed your work all summer long, and we’d like for you to take over the three major roles the other actor was playing.’ That’s a very nice ending to my beginning roots in San Diego.”
Lucky strike number two came after performing the leads for the final weeks of the season, specifically during the last performance of Merry Wives of Windsor.
“As I said, luck has always permeated my life,” Shimerman continued the story, adding, “But I preface this by saying, for years I thought this was bad luck. In hind sight, this was very good luck.”
After finishing his first scene in the show, Shimerman went to change into his next costume. Alone in his dressing room, he got out of his costume very quickly. “I did this Hunk thing and – argh!” he pulls on his shirt in a very animated gesture, “I tore the threads out, because I was so disgusted with this costume. And like a mad Rumplestiltskins, I jumped up and down on the costume, kicking it. I was so happy I would never have to wear it again.”
During his garment tirade, however, Shimerman heard his second scene starting on stage. He doesn’t say much during the scene, but his presence is pivotal to the play. “I have to be there,” he said, “I have to be there – in the costume I just trashed.” Needless to say, he missed the scene and the other actors had to perform without him.
The next day, he had to meet with Noel. “I walked into Craig Noel’s office. He closed the door. Then he ripped me a new one.” Shimerman said that was the first and last summer he performed at the Globe.
If he had stayed in San Diego, Shimerman would not have created some of the most memorable characters that he is famous for today. In the past three decades since his time on the Globe stage, he has created many characters on stage and television – and even outer space. Not counting his performances on stage, Shimerman has created more than 100 characters for television, appearing in classics like Hill Street Blues, Cagney and Lacy, Alice, Who’s The Boss, L.A. Law, Ally McBeal, Seinfeld, The West Wing, ER, Nip/Tuck and Boston Legal – just to name a few. He’s probably more recognized in his starring roles as Pascal in Beauty and the Beast, as the rotten principal in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or as the alien bartender Quark in the Star Trek series, Deep Space Nine.
“All the good things that have happened to me – my marriage, some of my best friends, my Broadway work – all stem from the fact that I was jumping up and down on my costume at the Globe,” Shimerman said. “It is why San Diego holds a great spot in my heart. It is why I really enjoy coming back to San Diego. And whatever relationship I had with the Globe is now more than overshadowed by my relationship with the Rep. I am enormously flattered and proud to be at the Rep.”
This is Shimerman’s second production with the San Diego Rep, performing in their 2005 production of King Lear. Being cast in his second role, currently performing as Richard Harkin in Conor McPherson’s comic-drama The Seafarer, can be attributed to Shimerman’s life-long streak of luck.
A few years ago, Shimerman spent several months enjoying the theatre scene in New York. During the course of seeing many plays, he had the fortunate opportunity to see the original Broadway production of The Seafarer, a show that went on to be nominated for several Tony awards.
“This play just blew me away. I just loved this play,” he said. “The humanity. The sense of rebirth. The language skills of Conor McPherson. The joy of the characters. The supernatural. All of those elements meshed together into a seamless ensemble performance.”
The next day – “And I had never done this before,” he said – Shimerman called his theatrical agents and told them he wanted to do this play. They promised him they would find Shimerman a production. It wasn’t their work, however, that brought Shimerman back to the Rep, but his own luck.
“I don’t do it often, but I went to the Rep’s website some time back in March and saw they were doing The Seafarer,” he said. After a few emails and phone calls, he was able to audition for director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg. Soon after, he was in the cast.
The Seafarer is a rousing drama about the story of four lifelong friends who get together on Christmas Eve and end up making a bet with the devil in disguise. The show transports audiences to a bungalow just north of Dublin, a magical part of the world where the natural and the supernatural live side by side with the hard-living working man.
“It’s the story of my character’s brother, Sharky, being pulled from two sides,” Shimerman says. “One to face melancholy, depression, death, hell – being tempted by the devil to go to those places. On the other hand, being pulled by a God-fearing, life loving character (played by Shimerman) who is begging him to enjoy life at this very moment, and to go to positive places.”
“Depending where you are at in the show, it can be hilarious, and where you are in the show, it can be haunting,” he concludes. “Both of them add up to joy.”
Presented by the San Diego Repertory Theatre
Through Dec. 13
Lyceum Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza (in downtown San Diego)
Box Office: (619) 544-1000