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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: April ::
OTHELLO at BAM; Star Trek
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0360  Friday, 17 April 1998.

[1]     From:   Bill Cain <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Apr 1998 11:04:46 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   OTHELLO at BAM

[2]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Thursday, 16 Apr 1998 09:47:54 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0352  Re: Shakespeare and Star Trek


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Bill Cain <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Apr 1998 11:04:46 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        OTHELLO at BAM

I found the Royal National Theater production of OTHELLO, in NYC this
past weekend, interesting and provocative, but curiously unpowerful and
unmoving. The staging, lighting, music-all were vivid, sharply executed.
The performances were for the most part very skillful-again, the
execution was impressive. But these were, I thought, bound ultimately to
(and confined by) an over-severe, almost clinical, conception of the
play.

Simon Beale's Iago-well, it was intriguing to witness that short, stocky
body in the role of Iago; and I admired the actor's expertise and
confidence. But the sheer viciousness with which the role was conceived
-it was too detached, too much outside Othello (whom this Iago regarded
with supreme disgust), really to work richly for me. Brilliant within
its limits but not deep or probing enough to engage (and really
challenge) a range of feelings. Iago was brutally vicious-everything was
reduced to this dimension alone.

This is, I think, a version of what bother me as well about the actor
who played Othello-though here again I realize that I am quarreling with
the company's vision of the play as much as (or more than) I am at odds
with the actor's work. I missed the exotic grandeur, the strangeness,
the scale and scope-which are there in the language, but which this
production sought determinedly to resist. The military uniforms, the
stark, cold atmosphere-this director and his cast were not going to
allow the audience to be touched by the sweep and mystery of the
language, that panoramic splendor and beautiful backward-glancing and
self-loving marveling that come out in Othello's great early speeches
about his adventures.

I hope I do not sound too much like A. C. Bradley! But possibly
productions nowadays are hammer-locked by their fear of seeming
sentimentalizing or idealizing about Othello: I think they may be
getting too complacent in their cynicism and irony.

Two other points:

1. The response of the audience at the performance I attended (the
Saturday matinee) was weirdly out of tune with what was transpiring
onstage, I thought. Perhaps I was missing something. But many in the
audience were chortling at some of Iago's lines and gestures, as if this
Iago were connecting to us with the wily seductiveness that many Iagos
do exploit.  But THAT (to me) was not at all in THIS Iago, whose bitter
resentful blasts and hatreds had none of the virtuosity-in-evildoing
that other Iagos delight in. Perhaps-here I indulge in
audience-diagnosis-the laughter in the theater was the way some or many
defended against the antihuman narrowness that this Iago incarnated. Or
maybe the actor was not in fact conveying with real success the idea
that informed his interpretation of the part.

2. The review of the NY Times (Saturday edition) is well-worth looking
up, but, oddly, not a word appears in it about the handling of the
racial issues in this production. This Othello possesses a magnificent
body, and, by the time of the murder, he wears no shirt, so that his
muscular might is unmistakably at the fore. I could not tell whether
this production was seizing upon stereotypes of Black male sexuality and
demanding that the audience face them, or, instead, was capitalizing
upon and ratifying and reinforcing them. It is of course unimaginable
that a modern production would do THAT, but I found I was having such a
response nonetheless.  Something struck me as very problematic and awry
about how this Othello's "blackness" was represented.

Something, in a word, was being shown but not explored, authenticated
rather than dismantled. Which recalled for me, as I sorted through my
responses later, James Baldwin's protests against Richard Wright's
depiction of the murderous Black criminal Bigger Thomas in NATIVE SON. I
think that Baldwin was mistaken about Wright, but the thrust of his
complaint-that Wright failed to grasp how he ended up validating the
racism in his white readership/audience-is pertinent to this production
of OTHELLO.

I would be very eager to hear from subscribers to this list who saw the
production and responded differently.

Bill Cain (Wellesley College)

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Thursday, 16 Apr 1998 09:47:54 -0500
Subject: 9.0352  Re: Shakespeare and Star Trek
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0352  Re: Shakespeare and Star Trek

>While on the subject of autographed books, sort of, a friend once asked
>me if any books have survived that Shakespeare autographed for people.
>Would you give the short answer or the long answer?  I just said No.
>He's not a detail person.

This sounds like a story about Fritz Kreisler, the famous violinist.
One day, a fan came up to him and enthused, "Can I have your autograph?
I just love your building!"  So he signed the autograph, "Yours truly,
Walter Chrysler."

He's also famous for walking by a fish store window filled with
open-mouthed and staring cod and remarking, "That reminds me-I have to
give a concert tonight."

Long answer to your short question--give the short answer.

Melissa Aaron
University of Wisconsin-Madison
 

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