Othello (Shakeapeare Theater Company)

Though an active and talented member of Venetian society who has started to assimilate, he is never fully accepted—and it makes him all the more susceptible to the machinations of Iago, the one person he feels that he can trust. 

…Iago’s hatred of Othello stems from his own jealousy.  He resents the fact that Othello promoted Cassio over him, believes that Othello slept with his wife and cringes at the idea that a foreigner—whom he considers inferior—has the success and recognition that he has been denied.  It is a personal vendetta, and he makes the audience complicit. 

-Katherine Peterlin (STC’s Young Professionals Consortium)

As my regular readers know, Othello is my favorite Shakespeare play.  The themes of this play are relevant today (as we heard in the video above).  I saw it back in 2011 at the Folger; you can read that review here.  I went to see this new adaptation, starring Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir, at STC on SUN, FEB 28 (7:30PM); it was just 5 days after the play opened.  I had a seat in the 3rd row (rare for me); three 20s gals sitting behind me had free tickets (how lucky)!  Sitting beside me were a middle-aged couple who also enjoyed the show a lot; the husband made some comments that proved that his wife was the Shakespeare expert, but he enjoyed it, too.  As for the desis (South Asians) in the audience, I didn’t see more than a handful (including myself).         

Some of you may be thinking: Isn’t Othello supposed to be black (as in African-American)?  But remember that in The Bard’s time, “black” may have had a different meaning.  “Renaissance representations of the Moor were vague, varied, inconsistent, and contradictory,” as E. A. J. Honigmann, editor of The Arden Shakespeare, noted.  “The term Moor referred to darker-skinned people in general, used interchangeably with similarly ambiguous terms such as African, Somali, Ethiopian, Negro, Arab, Berber, and even Indian to designate a figure from Africa (or beyond). Various uses of the word black are insufficient evidence for any accurate racial classification; that could simply mean swarthy,” Honigmann concluded.

MoorishAmbassador_to_Elizabeth_I

Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moroccan ambassador to the court of Elizabeth I (some consider him as the model for Othello)

Original Line:  She gave me for my pains a world of… sighs.

Changed Line: She gave me for my pains a world of… kisses.

Above is one of the lines that was changed from the original (I noticed it right away); it’s more suited to the WWI setting of this play.  This is the kind of adaptation that grows on you, though I quickly noticed that the lighting was very well-done (from the 1st scene).  Iago (played by Jonno Roberts, a New Zealand native) is a very strong villain; he’s matter-of-fact, yet funny.  One of his tactics is to tightly embrace several of the individuals (Rodrigo, Othello, and Cassio) who he has ensnared in his web.  Since Roberts is tall, broad, and muscular (like a modern-day military man), this comes off as potentially scary.  I especially liked Iago and Othello’s scenes; the actors obviously have good chemistry and a great command of the text.  All the supporting actors did well, especially the two who played Desdemona and Emilia.

There were two moments in this play that I thought were particularly good.  One was Othello grabbing Iago, pulling him down, and choking him (when the villain first accused Desdemona of unfaithfulness).  The other scene was when Othello went into a fit of epilepsy, falling to the floor, and shaking for several seconds (everyone leaned forward in their seats).  I was sure that this play would get better w/ time; it has been extended through April 2.  Go check it out if you have a chance! 

For DC Area Theater Fans

Othello (Sidney Harman Hall: FEB 23-MAR 27)

This is my favorite Shakespeare tragedy; I love it even MORE than Hamlet!  In this production Othello will be played by a Pakistani-American actor- Faran Tahir. VERY exciting…  I’m going to be seeing it SUN, FEB 28 (7:30PM).

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Some of you will recognize him from the first Iron Man movie and the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot films.

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Link to 2014 podcast interview with Faran Tahir

Link to play website

Use promo code OTHELLO20 for 20% off price.

Disgraced (Arena Stage: APR 22-MAY 29)

I’m VERY excited to go see this play; one of my gal pals and I got tickets as part of a package!  Actor-turned novelist and playwright, Ayad Akthar (who I blogged about before) won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for this play, which was also his first. 

This play is being produced in 40 different theaters in the 2015-2016 season- WOW!  In some ways, it looks to be a simple domestic play, as it has only one set and five actors.  The play is set in the Upper West Side Manhattan apartment of South Asian American corporate lawyer, Amir, and his artist wife, Emily.  They hold a small dinner party w/ Amir’s work friend Johri, an African-American woman, and her secular Jewish husband, Isaac.  As the night goes on, more and more alcohol is consumed, the conversation gets  heated- the mood of the play turns serious.  Amir, who seems to have totally separated himself from his Pakistani and Muslim identities, is revealed as a complex and troubled man.

I read this play less than 2 years ago, after seeing clips about the Lincoln Center production (which starred The Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi).  One of my acquaintances saw it when it premiered on Broadway; Hari Dhillon (an Indian-American of Sikh heritage) played the lead role. The PBS Newshour piece (see video below) features Dhillon and How I Met Your Mother actor Josh Radnor (who played Isaac). 

Akthar said that he wrote this play “for the global Muslim audience” (many of whom will never see it, given restrictions on freedom of speech) and the “typical (mostly white) theatergoing audience here in the U.S.”  Something important to keep in mind- the major influences for Disgraced were Othello and Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller. 

Link to play website

The Who & The What (Round House Theatre – Bethesda: MAY 25 -JUNE 16)

“The Who & the What” (the title of Zarina’s novel)… explores intergenerational and interfaith conflicts with fluid eloquence and intelligence. Mr. Akhtar writes dialogue that, while often funny and always natural, crackles with ideas and continually reveals undercurrents of tension that ratchet up the emotional stakes.  -Charles Isherwood (NYT) re: 2014 Lincoln Center production

I read this play soon after Disgraced.  It focuses on an upper-class Pakistani-American family in Atlanta, which includes the father, a widower and religious Muslim- Afzal (who runs successful donut shops) and his two daughters- complicated and intellectual Zarina and the more simple and beautiful Mahwish.  Since his younger daughter is almost done w/ grad school and unofficially engaged to her  (father-approved, Pakistani-American) beau, Afzal is eager to find a husband for Zarina, who is around 30 at the start of the story.  (It may remind you a bit of The Taming of the Shrew.)  Like MANY people, Afzal turns to an online platform for Muslim singles; he meets a smart and caring man who is a white convert.  Eli, who grew up in Detroit with liberal parents and many Muslim friends, is the imam of a small and humble masjid.  Zarina decides to give Eli a chance, but her main focus is a book on the life and times of Prophet Muhammad.  The topic of this book is VERY controversial- it could jeopardize her closest relationships!

Link to play website

PWYC: WED, MAY 25 (7:30 PM) & SAT, MAY 28 (2 PM)

Related Videos

Ayad Akthar’s TED Talk

 

 

 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (NOW PLAYING)

NOTE: This is a SPOILER-FREE review.

I went to see this action film b/c it was FREE (w/ my movie Meetup)!  LOL… I’m NOT a big fan of Tom Cruise, BUT I don’t loathe him (like SO many out there).  I was (pleasantly) surprised that I had a GOOD time; the same goes for the ladies in my group (we’re ALL female, BTW).

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Tom Cruise and Rebecca Ferguson star in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation.”

I was esp. glad to see a strong female counterpoint to Cruise in the form of Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson (who plays a Brit).  Yes, she’s a beautiful lady, BUT she is also tall, muscular/solid build, and does some AWESOME stunts!  Is her character a good spy or a baddie?  It takes a BIT of time for that to be revealed. She and Cruise have TERRIFIC onscreen chemistry.  FYI: This is her FIRST big movie role.

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Actress Rebecca Ferguson at a premiere for the film.

As for the men, I liked Simon Pegg’s computer expert character- he provided a LOT of the humor.  Jeremy Renner- don’t know WHY this guy keeps getting cast in big movies!?  The poor guy just has NO screen presence; forget about ever being a leading man.  Ving Rhames is underused, as is Alec Baldwin (looking good, as always).  Baldwin has one of the funniest lines in the film though.

The soundtrack is one of the BEST things about this movie; one (well-known) piece of opera is woven throughout a pivotal scene.  Also, everyone likes hearing the MI theme song, right?

Check out The Super Fantastic Nerd Hour podcast (Episode 72) if you’ve seen this film and want to hear an in-depth review.

Actors Gabrielle Union & Denis O’Hare: Redefining Family

The black community in Hollywood is very small and close-knit. We watch each others’ scenes. There is a natural chemistry. You can’t have a crazy diva…  -Gabrielle Union

Getting married was a political act because so many people fought so hard for it. Also, every time I say the word “husband” and somebody flinches, I am helping to teach society this is the way it will be. This is the way it is.  -Denis O’Hare

Two Films from The Washington Jewish Film Festival

WJFF_2015

Apples from The Desert

This is a coming-of-age story (one in a shory story collection- Apples from the Desert by Sayvon Leibrecht) about Rachel, a 19 y.o. ultra-Orthodox Jewish girl, who lives in Jerusalem w/ her parents.  Unlike most families in their community, she’s the only child of her parents.  Rachel yearns for a different life than the one of her housewife mother.  Rachel’s unmarried aunt lives down the street, w/ her cat, and seems content to be single/celibate.  We learn from her father that people in the community still whisper about the time Rachel drank bleach (in an attempt to kill herself). 

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At a community center, Rachel watches young secular men and women doing folk dances.  This is forbidden in her sect, of course.  She eventually gets the courage to joins the class, taking some time off from her job.  A red-headed college boy in this class tells her about his life on a kibbutz, and they develop a friendship.  Her father, worried about Rachel’s changing attitude and future, plans a different future.  Her mother sees that she’s unhappy, but fears losing her only child to the world.

The Dove Flyer (AKA Farewell to Baghdad)

The Dove Flyer

This film (based on the novel by Eli Amir) tells the story of the last years of the Jewish community in Baghdad, Iraq, before their expulsion in 1950 and settlement in Israel. The teen narrator, Kabi, watches as the members of his extended family each develop different dreams/fears: his father wants to emigrate to the promised land, his uncle Hizkel (a Zionist) is suddenly arrested; his Muslim teacher, Salim, believes in the equality of Arabs and Jews; and his other uncle just wants to raise his doves.  World War II draws closer, houses are ceased, Jews are beaten in the streets and hung in public.  Kabi is watchful of Hizkel’s spirited young wife, who turns heads w/ her blonde hair, blue eyes, and revealing dresses. 

Trailer: