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Robinson takes on pair of Shakespearean roles

Jules Becker
Robinson takes on pair of Shakespearean roles
Omar Robinson teams up with Dakota Shepard in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” (Photo: Ross MacDonald)

Sometimes “no news” is good news.

Witness opportunities for local African American actors with Shakespeare. There was a time when black performers struggled to find parts in such vaunted material in Boston.

Now, as Omar Robinson recently told the Banner, opportunities for black actors in Shakespeare offerings are the norm. In fact, the 27-year-old Cambridge actor has landed two very different roles in successive stagings of the plum comedy “Twlefth Night” — Orsino in Summer Theatre Festival’s (SFT’s) edition at Roxbury Latin (in repertory with “Ronsencranz and Guildenstern Are Dead”) and Antonio in Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s season opener Sept. 27-Oct. 23.

“Being an actor of color for me personally hasn’t been an issue,” Robinson said. “For me it’s been color blind casting.”

Robinson has certainly been no stranger to the Bard’s works. While studying acting at Emerson College, he played Demetrius  —  who is romantically involved with Helena in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” —  in a production called “Lovers in Midsummer.”

In a spring 2010 Shakespeare Now tour of “Macbeth,” Robinson played Banquo, the fellow Scottish nobleman whom the title usurper betrays. Last fall, he played Casca, the first conspirator to land a blow, in Shakespeare Now’s tour of “Julius Caesar.”

“Shakespeare Now brings the plays to students all around New England,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Actually, the busy actor  —  also a bartender at Tavern in the Square and a freelance photographer who specializes in portraits and head shots in and out of New York — is finding the SFT “Twelfth Night” to be a kind of entertaining party in its own right.

“Ross MacDonald [the director] is doing a roaring 1920s Illyria [the Italian setting],” Robinson said. “It’s a very light-hearted take in a very good way.”

Maintaining that SFT means to present “theater for everyone,” Robinson added, “It [the play] translates very well for today”

Love, romance, passion and family ties — all major themes in the play — are always staples of the theater.

Dahlia Al Habieli’s sets, Robinson noted, give these elements an appealing ambience.

“Some of the scenes are on the boardwalk, and the palace is on the water [the Mediterranean Sea],” he said.

Robinson is playing Duke Orsnio with an ambience of sophistication as well but also “as a man of the people.” Robinson also sees Orsino as “a man who loves challenges”  —  here the challenges of his relationships with Olivia and Viola (the latter largely in disguise ).

Dakota Shepard plays Olivia and Elizabeth Rimar Viola. Sebastian, separated from sister Viola after a shipwreck and enamored of Olivia, is played by Jack Cutmore-Scott, the title character in the IRNE Award-winning Lyric Stage Company of Boston production of “Nicholas Nickleby.”

Robinson is enjoying his own challenge moving from his current tone-setting role —  with the famous  “If music be the food of love” entry — to the role of sea captain Antonio in the fall ASP production.

Antonio’s back story has involved combat with Orsino, but the brave captain proves most interesting for his close friendship with Sebastian.

Is Antonio experiencing a “bromance” or latent gay feeling for his chum? Robinson has been “sharing possibilities about what the love is” with Jake Connolly, a past Roxbury Latin student who is playing Antonio with SFT.

Shakespeare buffs can see Robinson’s take on the role in the fall.