This month, actor L. Peter Callender becomes the notorious Zimbabwean ruler in Breakfast with Mugabe. Loosely based on real events, the play chronicles Robert Mugabe's sessions with a white psychiatrist during a time of escalating racial and political tensions. How do you make a ruthless tyrant appear sympathetic? Callender explains.
PRETEND IT’S RICHARD III
“This show is contemporary Shakespeare. I’ve played Richard III, the Scotsman, Leontes, and this character touches on all of those: the frightened despot. It’s important to like the person you’re playing.”
“I can’t think of Mugabe as a tyrant, a killer with the mass graves. I have to think of him as a husband, a father, a provider, about the upright way he was raised, his time as a political prisoner, and his brilliance.”
LET IT HURT
“Something makes him this way. Is it jealousy? Neglect? Pride? For Mugabe not to go to a black doctor but to a white psychiatrist who has suffered under his racist policies, and call on him to be his savior—that makes him very vulnerable, and that’s the key.”
Nov. 7-Dec. 7, Aurora Theatre
Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco