Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 2, No. 107. Thursday, 18 Apr 1991.
Date: Thu, 18 Apr 1991 13:44:50 -0400
From: Steve Urkowitz <SURCC@CUNYVM>
Subject: 2.0103 New York *Othello* Query
Comment: Re: SHK 2.0103 New York *Othello* Query
Dear Lorin (et alia),
Thanks for your inquiry about the OTHELLO. I'll be writing up a bunch of
stories about the process and the event for my CCNY Alumni magazine, and
I'll zip it into the SHAKSPER mailbag (if I ever learn how to upload a file
from my machine to the mainframe). Meanwhile, the major interpretive slant
was to see Desdemona not as her father's image of her, mild and
modest, but as a fit companion to the Moor, a warrior woman. Our actress,
Dainne Ramirez, is an accomplished dancer of great physical grace and
strength, and her Desdemona had great humor, feistiness and combativeness.
Our Iago, Chris Boal, played CHARM and wit, and he himself was very confused
by the occasions of his success. Loving and hating the Moor, and Cassio, and
Desdemona, and Emilia, Iago didn't have an easy ride in. Lots of both
hetero- and homo-erotic tension erupts in the script. "Drama is the art
of significant juxtaposition," sez HDF Kitto, somewhere. Our Othello was
played by a 40 year-old senior, Dennis Jones. He has a dozen or so years
performing in opera and oratorios, but he acted this role, no intoning.
A man of immense personal decency and pride, his passions and enraged
idealisms seemed completely believable, as was his final suicide.
The "we" in "our Othello" includes Susan Spector of Baruch College, CUNY,
a much more experienced director than I. The collaboration went very
smoothly, but that's a whole other story. We brought together faculty and
staff from Music, Art, Drama and English, and we pulled in financial support
from alumni groups and a variety of deans. With "laying-on-of-hands"
advertising, working the lunchtime crowds, networking the various highschools
and middle schools and public service agencies we pulled in nearly full houses
despite a campus upheaval. Dionysus ain't orderly, but he delivers.
How to make connections between 17th century scripts and 20th century
actors. Ah! Now there's the ticket. All it takes is an academic lifetime
of preparation, or just a basic willingness to say (fears of accusations of
"essentialism" be damned) that 17th century people in Shakespeare's scripts
have to be understood as we understand 20th century people. It is as much of
a reach for me to comprehend the guy who grew up across the hall from me in
the Bronx as it is to understand the guy who grew up across the lane from
William Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon. In either case it takes a lot
of research, probing questions, sympathy and imagination. In either case
I can be dead wrong, but there is nice feedback if I find that my
interpretation allows me to understand larger and larger amounts of
"superficially" inexplicable behavior. So the directors and the actors and
the scene designers and the costumers PLAY imaginatively. We may be wrong.
Professor Stone and his idea that children weren't children or other people's
ideas that individuals or boys and girls were differently "constructed" may
be true, but like the fish this is the pond I have to swim in, and I try to
do it as wisely and as sympathetically as I can. As a male-gendered
49-year-old I know I can't see the world as a female-gendered adolescent
today, let alone one from 1595, but hath not a Jew eyes?
Thank you for your inquiry. These exchanges (e-exchanges?) have become one
of the pleasures of the Shakespeare community for me.