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Home :: Archive :: 1998 :: April ::
Re: RNT Othello
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 9.0366  Monday, 20 April 1998.

[1]     From:   David Levine <
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        Date:   Sunday, 19 Apr 1998 01:52:36 EDT
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0363  Re: RNT Othello

[2]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Sunday, 19 Apr 1998 10:52:55 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 9.0360  OTHELLO at BAM, directed by Sam Mendes

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Sunday, 19 Apr 1998 23:32:37 -0400
        Subj:   RNT Othello


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Levine <
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Date:           Sunday, 19 Apr 1998 01:52:36 EDT
Subject: 9.0363  Re: RNT Othello
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0363  Re: RNT Othello

Well, I guess I agree with Tanya, to an astonishingly complete degree.
I also thought Harewood's senate scene was absolutely masterful and
very, very moving.  But (as I have said) Othello should be very
frightening when he's roused to anger, and part of this fearsomeness is
his complete difference from all the "well-behaved" Venetians.  Indeed,
he is supposed to be somewhat savage (in a few places the text alludes
to this...Desdemona remarks that his eyes are "rolling," etc.).  Now,
there is certainly going to be the matter of racial stereotyping here,
but let's face it, folks...it's part of the play...in some fundamental
ways, Othello is less "civilized" than the people he is working for (I
use that term advisedly, having read the new Caryl Phillips
novel...title escapes me at this hour...in which Othello is a main
character, and which provides a lot of really fascinating background to
the play).  This might make him a better human being, but he IS
different; his emotions are in different relationship  with his  body.
IT is this aspect of the play that I have observed many Black (well,
African-American to be more specific, and for obvious reasons) actors
having difficulty with.

As for Beale's Iago, I had no doubt at all that he felt Emilia had slept
with Othello, but  he would assume automatically that, given the chance
to sleep with ANYONE else who was proximate, she would do so because he,
I ago, was so disgusting.  That Othello is so obviously more charismatic
and sexually attractive only makes the infidelity more probably from
Iago's standpoint.  Indeed, his self-loathing (in Beale's performance)
is the first cause of everything.  What was chilling in that kiss from
Emilia was how he went through the motions, giving NOTHING back, which
suddenly told us a tremendous amount about the everyday pain of their
marriage and how that pain kept providing feedback to sustain the awful
system.  Much like a lot of folks we doubtless know.  Beale's real
jealousy also added countless level to the "green-eyed monster" speech,
since it was obvious to Iago ( and to us) that he was talking completely
about himself.

For those of you who didn't like the production...all I can say is
something like "Jeez, folks..." and scratch my head.  And I am no blind
Anglophile about Shakespearean productions at the RSC and RNT.  And I
have seen Othello many many times in the last thirty five years.....

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Sunday, 19 Apr 1998 10:52:55 -0400
Subject: 9.0360  OTHELLO at BAM, directed by Sam Mendes
Comment:        Re: SHK 9.0360  OTHELLO at BAM, directed by Sam Mendes

I saw this production in London last Fall.  I wish I had kinder things
to say about it.  Unfortunately, it borrows so heavily from Trevor
Nunn's 1988 Othello that one can get distracted by the deja vu effect.
Mendes' set is virtually identical to Nunn's; and the staging,
characterizations and overall "look and feel" are highly reminiscent of
Nunn's choices.  The major difference is a telling one:  Nunn's
production was superior in every way.

The best performance is Trevor Peacock's as Brabantio.  All three leads
are inadequate.  David Harewood is an overly-young and lightweight
Othello, barely credible as a General let alone the supreme commander of
the Venetian army.  Physically, Harewood is in decent shape, but his
voice isn't up to the part.  Claire Skinner is a stunning art-deco
object with her blonde bangs, her slinky 30s dresses and her impossible
kewpie-doll voice; but Nora Charles has never been my idea of
Desdemona.  (Nor, for that matter, has Betty Boop).  Simon Russell Beale
is a tiny, tubby, Teutonic-looking Iago, lacking only a spiked helmet to
complete the total effect.  He brings nothing new to the role, playing
the ancient as a poisonous toad crouching within the familiar bluff and
coarse-grained soldier.  This latter approach has become almost
scriptural; yet I think it quite wrong.  In truth, Iago is an
intellectual, a rigorously consistent nihilist committed to
"deconstructing" the notions of love, honor, nobility, fidelity, loyalty
and self-sacrifice by exposing them as pleasant fictions.  Iago is the
ultimate post-modernist.  One day, I hope to see him played as such; but
I'm not holding my breath.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Sunday, 19 Apr 1998 23:32:37 -0400
Subject:        RNT Othello

I, too, saw the RNT Othello at BAM last weekend, and find myself siding
with those who found the production compelling.  I think what Bill Cain
and Shaul Bassi both found missing was a "reinterpretation" of the text
to either alter the racial aspects or illuminate them differently.

For me, the naturalistic, unaffected production brought out a clarity
and simplicity of plot and characterization that we seldom see.
Harewood, Simon Beale and the rest of the cast, presented characters who
were far more human and believable than those found in more stylized
productions.  Othello, for example, was neither an exemplar of nobility
nor an abused member of a minority group.  And Iago was neither a
virtuoso villain nor a lump of motiveless malignity.  Simon Beale showed
me a man tortured by jealousy and envy, who sets about destroying the
source of both emotions, not because he can, but because he feels he
should.

I also disagree with Tanya Gough's finding fault with Harewood for not
being as commanding a presence as she would prefer.  The tragedy was
more real and personal for me because the hero was not presented as a
superman, but only a husband whose day job is army general and who, like
most such men, is a competent leader.
 

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