Friday, September 27, 2013

Othello Again

I woke up thinking about Othello. Some of my second language friends went to see Coriolanus. It was a bust. They didn’t understand one word. I thought of their reaction to Coriolanus when the Othello started last night. I was asking the question, “Have I wasted my time coming. I am having to work so hard with the Old English grammar and with the English accent. I might not get much out of this play.” I coached myself to stay with it, saying, remember, keep working at it, it will get easier, don’t give up, use your brain, make it work hard. By the end of the play, I wasn’t noticing how hard the work was. How hard the language and accent were didn’t matter, because inside, I was writhing in pain in the scene where Othello kills Desdamona.

 I was using controlled breathing to stay calm and thinking ... how did the director, Nicholas Hytner do this? How did he bring the play's themes right up in the present, making me think of other crimes of passion. The simplicity of the set helped – this could be anywhere, anytime. The moves of the actors, which I knew were carefully choreographed, were realistic – so much was being said with the physicality of the moves that brought death. I was trying to stay focused on what I was seeing, at the same time trying to detach myself from the horror.

Why did I go to the show at all?  I am saying now as I said to myself last night, that is why I like the theatre. It gives me a chance to see myself and the broader culture that I live in.  To see it captured on the stage so that I can have the distance that being in the audience gives.  For me, I know I am engaging in the broader cultures concern over this problem.  And with Shakespeare, I am also thinking -- 400 years and still this is a central problem in some people's life.

John Everett Millais's "Ophelia"
Rebecca will want to know that the Willow, Willow song was lovely. Plaintive. Reminiscent of other images: Ophelia singing her mad song and then floating down the stream, dead, a lily on her breast-- no wonder that Desdamona death scene was excrutiatingly painful.  It carries with it a lot of other cultural allusions.

I was remembering that Rebecca sang the Willow Song when she acted in The Trojan Women. This morning Bonnie sang the song to me on the phone – unsolicited, it just leaped out of her vocal chords when I said I had seen Othello last night. She said, “Of course I know that song. How could a person take so many speech lessons and not be able to sing it.” That answered my question as to how she knew the song.

I will be processing the the National Theatre Live's Othello for a long time. Maybe find the play and read that last scene again. Perhaps I  will go back and take a look at this production when it comes again for its Encore. I hope I am near a theatre where I will be able to do that. One viewing was not enough.


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