view from the hill

A look at the elements and events that come into view from where I'm standing...
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... the stuff that matters in this life. Some flicker and are gone in a matter of hours
only to live in memory, others become life long travelling companions, never far from reach.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Othello, Y’all

We’re back in LA and to prove to myself that this isn’t a complete cultural wasteland, I took myself off to a production of Othello that was being staged in Glendale. I had seen Coriolanus with this same theater company a couple of years ago and absolutely loved it. At the time it might have been one of the best Shakespeare performances I’d seen. So, I was most excited to see what these guys would do with the Moor of Venice.

othelloI knew things weren’t off to a great start when my program contained a slip of paper announcing that the roll of Othello would be played by a substitute. This was the closing night of the show, how can there be substitutes? There’s was also an understudy in the roll of the Duke of Venice. Then the stage manager came out to announce that a third roll, that of Brabantio, would be read by another actor as a last minute replacement – not an understudy this time, the replacement actor would have to read from his script on stage. These guys were having a rough night. At least Iago was still the actor I’d seen as the lead from Coriolanus, so I knew he would provide some sparks.

The lights dimmed, the actors came on, and began speaking… with American accents! I’ve been so immersed in the Shakespeare of London for the past 2 years, this honestly surprised me. I’ve heard the Bard’s famous lines from many stages, in brilliant cockney, in the Queen’s finest, a deep and resonate South African, and even Original Pronunciation at the Globe on one occasion. Shakespeare’s poetry and passion, heartache and jubilation when rolled off the tongues of all these diverse accents deepens the experience with truth and authenticity. But here I was, back in LA, being slapped with flat American. It was most un-conducive.

To be fair, my love of Shakespeare developed in New York, where we saw some amazing productions. So, I know that it’s possible to pull these plays off no matter what the dialect. It was just a bit of a surprise after the grandness of London. Chalk it up to yet another layer revealed in the continuing experience that is culture shock.

The play itself wasn’t great. Othello is a tough play, jealousy such an ugly emotion. To see these lives deliberately torn apart for two or three hours can be an ordeal. But when done well, you live through the tragedy and emerge somehow changed. When done poorly, the feelings of emptiness and pointlessness are almost heightened. Some rolls were plain flat, I never bought the chemistry between Othello and Desdemona, even Iago was too mean-spirited to be believable. They did manage to pull off the tragedy at the end of it all, but still I was less than satisfied. I feel I’ve seen the best in London, so to come back to this is a bit like following a sumptuous meal with a Big Mac.

The same theatre is putting on The Tempest in the Spring, and I’ll be back for that. I still have hope. I so want these actors to be good. We’ll see.

On the drive home I listened to the BBC. Actual English voices filled my car as I made my way along late night freeways. There was a story about the last of the Routemaster busses in London. The end of yet another era. All the time we spent in London, and all the buses that we rode on, we never once leapt on the back of one of these war-time beasts to get out tickets punched by an actual person.

I changed the channel to find Jim Ladd playing (of course) the Doors, one of his tried and true. So, it’s either the end of an era 6000 miles away, or it’s reminders of a past I didn’t live through here in the States. Once again I find myself sandwiched between England and America. My position in this life brought to the fore. With my reluctant roots planted in foreign soil, where is “home”? And what is “foreign” anyway?

Shakespeare with an American accent. The BBC on an LA radio station. Jim Ladd playing rock and roll that defined an American generation. And me.

I’m beginning to accept culture shock as a constant presence in my vagabond life.