Exploring a dark time

[attach]3726[/attach]Chris Karczmar might be about to play the role of his life.

Admittedly, he’s played difficult roles in the past, but the Junction-area actor is now filling the shoes of a character who gives him a strong connection to his own family’s heritage.

“It’s very difficult, because you’re going through something that’s a very dark area and a huge tragedy, and to explore that is not pleasant,” Karczmar said of being involved with The Diary of Anne Frank (March 1–13 at Central Commerce Theatre).

“It’s interesting for me because my family is Polish-Russian Jew, so I have a history with the Holocaust.”

Taking on the role of Otto Frank, the character has given Karczmar reason to explore a painful past he has only dabbled in before.

“I haven’t really done a lot of exploration of it, other than knowing what went on with my family,” he said. “I haven’t been to Auschwitz, I haven’t read about it and examined the details, but because of this play I’ve had to do that, which has been very valuable, but also very difficult.”

Working with the group Shakespeare In Action, which is putting on the play, Karczmar has found his role to have two very distinct sides.

“It’s very complex. The thing is that I consider him to be heroic and have heroic qualities in many ways: he’s a great leader, he’s like a great athletic coach or a great president, or a great officer and he leads by example, he’s a great listener. But there’s complexity because, clearly, he has moments of doubt, moments of frustration, moments of despair.”

[attach]3727[/attach]Personal connections to the story aside, Karczmar says his role still holds importance, not just in telling the story of Anne Frank — a young Jewish girl who kept a diary while hiding from the Nazis with her family during the Holocaust — but in the telling of the Jewish struggle.

“Of course, it means a great deal to me to help tell the story,” he said. “I know it gets told a lot, and some people get tired of it being told, but a lot of people don’t know the story still, and that’s really valuable for me to get to be a part of telling it.”

As for landing the role, Karczmar said he fell into it accidentally.

While he had been a full-time actor for 17 years, he gave it up to teach, and three and a half years ago, moved to Canada from New York to get his masters in Fine Arts at York University.

“Some stuff started happening acting-wise, just because it was there,” he said. “So I started going back down that road, even though my main goal was to enhance my teaching, and the acting road started to open up again and I guess the truth is I had missed it.”

Now, he’s caught the acting bug again.

“It’s like a nasty virus that won’t let go,” Karczmar joked. “There are some frustrations, but it can be very enjoyable, and this experience is enjoyable.”

Actor Chris Karczmar’s favourite Junction haunts

Chris Karczmar says he likes the intimate feeling of his Junction neighbourhood. Here are his favourite places to visit:

Hairy Tarantula (2949 Dundas St. West) — The comic and gaming shop “comes in my mind even though it’s not my kind of thing, but I just love the whole atmosphere of it and the fact that it’s there,” he says.

Guffin’s Hardware & Electric (3347 Dundas St. West) — “It’s like the old-fashioned hardware store, with the wood floors, not old but older guys who’ve been around and know everything, and everything is there from the mop handle to the screw,” he says.

Used bookstores, like Pandemonium (2863 Dundas St. West) — “and right next to it a kind of funky one that’s all paperbacks, and there’s always stacks of paperbacks and you have to climb over them. And everything’s always on sale.”

Karczmar, a former New Yorker, also highlighted a stretch of Bloor West near Runnymede “that little area where my wife and I do our shopping” as another favourite.

“I don’t mean to denigrate my former country, but it’s walking around and doing that kind of stuff that’s hard to do in America anymore,” he said of the little area stores.

“I don’t want to lose that intimacy and those independent funky stores, because that’s what we love here.”