Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1997 :: November ::
Re: Othello in DC
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 8.1199.  Tuesday, 25 November 1997.

[1]     From:   David Evett <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Monday, 24 Nov 1997 15:27:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 8.1196  Oth. in DC

[2]     From:   Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, November 25, 1997
        Subj:   Othello in DC


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Monday, 24 Nov 1997 15:27:13 -0500
Subject: 8.1196  Oth. in DC
Comment:        Re: SHK 8.1196  Oth. in DC

Peter Marks' review of the Washington Shakespeare Theater production of
*Othello* (NYT 22 Nov.) finds the representation of the Venetians much
less problematic than Jimmy Jung; the review focuses almost entirely on
the main characters and the actors playing them (deep admiration for
Patrick Stewart as Othello and Franchelle Stewart Dorn as Emilia,
dismissal of Ron Canada as a "wooden" Iago).  Marks does call the
occupying forces in Cyprus "a mercenary force" or (a line later) "a U.N.
peacekeeping unit," which made me wonder if recent events in central and
west Africa might not have played as largely on the British director's
imagination as gang conflict in L.A. What said the Washington Post?

Dave Evett

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Hardy M. Cook <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, November 25, 1997
Subject:        Othello in DC

I saw the Shakespeare Theatre's *Othello* on Saturday and had a
different reaction from that of Jimmy Jung and the reviewer for the
*Washington Post* Lloyd Rose.

The production, directed by Jude Kelly, used what the program referred
to as "negative" casting.  The Venetians were all played by African
Americans with Patrick Steward playing Othello; however, to me the
actors playing the Cypriots appeared more Middle Eastern than white.
Bianca was indeed played by a white actor as were three Venetian
servants of Barbantio, all valid and consistent casting choices.

The production did focus on "the treatment of women," the most notable
example being Fran Dorn's Emilia.  (Dorn also played Emilia at the
Shakespeare Theatre in 1990 with Avery Brooks as Othello and Andre
Bragher as Iago. In the 1990 production, having African Americans as
Iago and Emilia implied that part of Iago motivation resulted from his
perceiving Othello as betraying his race.) In the current production,
Dorn played Emilia as an "abused wife," a very different interpretation
from her earlier more earthly and assertive performance.

However, I would not contend that the production focused exclusively on
"the treatment of women." It also emphasized the vast age difference
between Stewart's Othello and Patrice Johnson's extremely young, if not
girlish, Desdemonia.

Furthermore, the "negative" casting did for me accentuate the script's
racial dimension in ways that I have not seen in any other production.
Othello is still described as "an old black ram," as having
"thick-lips," and as being "black," and Stewart delivers the "Haply, for
I am black . . ." line unaltered. To me, the point was not that the
Venetians were "more violent, more bestial" than Venetians in
traditionally cast *Othello*s. What struck me instead was that these
Venetians were more racially antagonistic than I have seen in other
productions. The Senate scene exemplified this point well. Not only does
Barbantio display overt racial hostility toward Othello but so do ALL of
the Venetians present. More strikingly, Craig Wallace as the Duke
delivers the line "I think this tale would win my daughter too" directly
to Barbantio in a bitter and disgusted manner - this line was surely NOT
a palliative. The behavior of the Venetian soldiers in Cyprus was not I
am sure a comment on their being played by African Americans and was
more likely a commentary on imperialism. Further, I would not
characterize their high-energy jogging as "a minstrel gait."

At the performance I attended, there was more laughter than I am
accustomed to in other productions of *Othello*.  Roderigo was played as
a simpleton, provoking some of the laughter, yet I was troubled that
some of the laughter I heard seemed inappropriate.  I suspect that this
production, which had been sold out since early September, has attracted
many Trekies who are present at least as much to see Picard as
Shakespeare. During intermission, my wife overheard the comment, "Gee,
this is so sad. I don't think I like it" - surely not a remark one hears
from someone familiar with the play.  [Please, no flames, I like the
various incarnations of *Star Trek* too.]

There were also some directorial deletions I did not clearly understand,
the most notable being that even with a candle on stage, Othello spoke
of only putting out Desdemona's "light."  There were a few other
directorial choices I did not care for, especially the business that
brought on Othello's seizure, but the racial tensions of the production
worked well for me and Stewart's portrayal of the noble Moor was
impressive.
 

Other Messages In This Thread

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.