Theater News

Danny Aiello Meets His Maker

The award-winning actor discusses starring in the new Off-Broadway play The Shoemaker.

Danny Aiello in The Shoemaker
(© Ben Hillder)
Danny Aiello in The Shoemaker
(© Ben Hillder)

Since starting his acting career at the age of 36, Danny Aiello has gone on to star in numerous Broadway shows, appear in dozens of films and television shows — earning an Oscar nomination and a Daytime Emmy Award — and record four albums. Now, he’s playing the title role in the Off-Broadway production of Susan Charlotte’s The Shoemaker at The Acorn Theatre. The play is set in Hell’s Kitchen on September 11, 2001 and revolves around an Italian Jew who must confront both his past and present. Aiello spoke with TheaterMania about this gripping play, his future plans, and the challenges of growing older.

THEATERMANIA: In 2010, you starred in a successful one-act stage version of The Shoemaker. Tell me why it’s changed?
DANNY AIELLO: Susan had written the one-act play, and it was so good that I had suggested to her that she take it beyond that point. You can play one-acts all over the place, but it doesn’t mean anything. It needs a second act. Yet, there’s a danger in doing that, because when you ask a person to do a second act when the first act is already substantial, it can be difficult to make it better, or at least equal. I can only go by what I feel, but I think the new act has made the play so much greater.

TM: Despite the play’s serious nature, there are humorous elements to it. How much of the humor comes from you as an actor, and how much is in the writing?
DA: Susan doesn’t write jokes, but she writes stuff where the situation, if it is acted properly, will get the laughs that she wants.

TM: Your character is an Italian Jew. How much of a stretch was that for you to play being that you are Italian, and you’re married to a Jewish woman?
DA: I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in the Bronx. Most of the white guys I was with were Jewish, sprinkled with a couple of Italians, but many Blacks and Puerto Ricans lived very much near me.. I never studied as an actor, but my experience in life gas helped me as an actor. And I’ve played Jewish people before. The shoemaker is not profoundly Jewish in a caricature-like way. He’s a man who has been affected by New York; he’s 70something years old and has been there since the age of nine, so he has picked up dialect from the city. I speak Yiddish, Italian and German in the play. In reality, I have lived with a Jewish girl all my life, so it’s not very difficult. But let me tell you, my refrigerator constantly smells like chopped liver, which I hate!

TM: You’re also working on Capone. How will it be different from other projects based on the infamous criminal?
DA: It is not the Capone everyone is accustomed to seeing. He’s a man who’s on the last days of his life because he’s dying of syphilis. He speaks to 30 different people that are not there. He’s funny, he’s vicious, he’s political, and he may make you drop a tear, but we’re not trying to glorify the killer. You’ll find out things about him that you never knew. It is the most exhilarating thing I have ever done on the stage.

TM: Your recently turned 78. What’s the secret to being able to do so much at your age?
DA: People ask me what I’m taking! If I took drugs, I’d be on top of the moon. I have natural highs. But work has been getting to me a little more recently. I never paid attention to pressure before, and then I lost my son one year ago to pancreatic cancer. I’m thinking about these things that have come upon my wife and me, and together with the preparing for two plays and doing my music, it’s all sort of not allowing me to get as much sleep as I should.

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The Shoemaker

Closed: August 14, 2011