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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: March ::
Re: White Othello
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.063  Tuesday, 28 March 2000.

[1]     From:   Carl Fortunato <
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        Date:   Monday, 27 Mar 2000 13:01:40 EST
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO

[2]     From:   Joe Conlon <
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        Date:   Monday, 27 Mar 2000 15:55:35 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO

[3]     From:   William Sutton <
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        Date:   Tue, 28 Mar 2000 01:11:51 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   White Othello in all-colour OTHELLO

[4]     From:   Paul Franssen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 28 Mar 2000 15:18:07 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Carl Fortunato <
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Date:           Monday, 27 Mar 2000 13:01:40 EST
Subject: 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO

> How does an all-black performance of Othello isolate Othello, the
>  protagonist, from the hostile white, European, Venetian world that
>  despises his race but needs him as their savior? The traditional black
>  Othello is set off powerfully in an all-white performance. His being
>  black, that is, physically DIFFERENT from those amongs whom he live,
>  serves and saves, makes us acutely aware, theatrically and otherwise, of
>  his alien status as a Christianized pagan in a European world. But how
>  would and how has an all-black cast handled this? Would they select a
>  white actor to play Othello?
>
>  If not, how has this problem been dealt with in the past and in the
>  present, during the Harlem Renaissance days, when black actors were,
>  apparently, not welcome in white theaters, during the Civil Rights
>  movement of the 60's and today in an age of great black confidence,
>  cultural independence and even separatism?
>
>  What are the moral, psychological and historical repercussions of an
>  all-black performance of OTHELLO with a "non-black" Othello as
>  protagonist? How does an all-black cast select ITS Othello for the
>  stage?

This was actually done recently, with Patrick Stewart playing Othello
with an all-black cast in Washington DC.  I have no idea what the
consensus was on that performance, though.

[Editor's Note: One can use the SEARCH command to find the previous
discussions. -Hardy]

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Joe Conlon <
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Date:           Monday, 27 Mar 2000 15:55:35 -0500
Subject: 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO

I believe Patrick Stewart played a white Othello in an otherwise all
black cast at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington D.C. just last
season and I heard it received critical acclaim.  I regret that I am in
the hinterlands of central Indiana cornfields and didn't get to see it
myself.  Perhaps someone on the list could review that performance.  I
imagine it is in our archives somewhere.

Joe Conlon

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           William Sutton <
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Date:           Tue, 28 Mar 2000 01:11:51 -0800 (PST)
Subject:        White Othello in all-colour OTHELLO

Hi Everyone,

I recently saw a white Othello in an all Arabic cast here in Amsterdam.
It took place at the Cosmic Theatre which provides many multi-ethnic
productions. It was a high tech setting updated to post Gulf War Riyadh
and eventually Kuwait. Othello was a Dutch General who communicated
through Iago as interpreter or spoke himself in halting French. The
Moroccan actors (all professionals from Morocco who had to seek
permission to leave their day jobs to do this tour) spoke mostly Arabic
and some French. The whole production had supra-titling. Othello himself
in soliloquy and in his anger with Desdemona used Dutch.

The actor who played Othello used the difference in languages to
excellent effect: feigning incomprehension at Brabantio's pleas before
the Duke, struggling to convince Iago to speak his real mind and
spitting out his mother tongue in complete frustration at Desdemona's
incomprehension of his French.

The Moroccan style of acting is very much audience related. In Morocco
audience members talk, walk about, go to the toilet en masse etc and the
players adjust to it by addressing them directly. The audience dialogues
back and hoots and cheers and boos when they feel it as appropriate. I
attended on a night when mainly Dutch were in the public but the Arabic
speakers who were there whooped it up and enjoyed the subtleties of the
language. The actress who played Emilia brought new meaning to the
bedroom scene in act 4:3. Her comments on adultery do not exactly fall
on liberated feminist ears in her culture.

Obviously you have to know your Othello. My date complained about having
to follow the text above the players and not being able to concentrate
on the players and their play. But my point is that an all-black Othello
is but one production. We can take any ten black groups from varying
parts of the world (Trinidad, Ethiopia, Jamaica, LA, Washington DC,
Manchester England, Parisian suburbs, Johannesburg, London and New York)
and what are we saying? What makes Othello? Obviously not the text as
Shakespeare wrote it. The collection of acts and scenes as they appeal
to the common humanity of the director and his actors perhaps. (The
Othello above had fought for the 'put out the light' lines and lost). Or
is there always a hidden dilemma in the core of the play which we all
recognise?

The production I saw showed clearer than any I've seen before that it is
Othello's 'verfremdung' from the dominant culture in which he finds
himself praised yet despised that is the heart of the play. Everything
else is a knock on effect from there.

Nuff said.

Yours,
William S.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Paul Franssen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 28 Mar 2000 15:18:07 +0200
Subject: 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0586 White Othello in all-Black OTHELLO

In reply to Benjamin Sher's question: a recent Dutch production of
Othello did more or less what you were speculating about: reversing the
colours of Othello and his environment. Othello was imagined as a white
American general, hired by the Arabs to do their fighting in the context
of the Gulf War. He was married to a Moroccan Desdemona, and the other
"Venetians," too, were played by Arab migrants. The languages spoken
were French and Arabic, with Dutch subtitles. I have not seen the
production, by Rotterdam-based Onafhankelijk Toneel, myself, but
understand it was quite impressive.

Paul Franssen
Department of English
University of Utrecht
The Netherlands
 

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