AMERICAN MOOR - Red Bull Theatre
“I did consent”. So begins “American Moor” written and performed by playwright and actor Keith Hamilton Cobb, who did consent to dedicating his life to the stage but did not consent to be African American. Cobb's premise is that It’s tough enough to be an actor, tougher still to be an African American actor.
In a stark, expansive and powerful 90-minute performance, Mr. Cobb plays an Actor auditioning for the role of Othello to explore the assumptions we make not just about race, but also on “type”. Observing Actor’s muscular 6’2” frame, the Director auditioning Mr. Cobb asks “Did you play basketball?” That question is a small indignity compared to the racial implications of yet another African American, once again, playing Othello. No matter that Othello might have been Muslim not necessarily African, no matter that the first “black” Othello didn’t appear until 1833, no matter that white actors from Olivier to Welles "blacked up" for the role… why is it that Othello is now THE Black Shakespeare character? What, the Actor asks, did Desdemona see in the Moor besides his “chocolate stick”, which is another way to assume tall Black Americans, well, of course, play basketball. Objectification is degrading.
Mr. Cobb amazingly weaves four different tracks of dialogue: real Shakespearian acting, stretching from Titania to Hamlet (he's told a Black man really can’t do either really correctly); an internal conversation of what he wants to say to the Director; the actual exchange he has with the Director in the audition; and, finally, the wrenching soliloquies to the audience.
Josh Tyson plays the Director sitting in the audience, judging; as audience, don’t we too? Kim Weild’s direction is taught from beginning to end. Alan C. Edwards brilliant lighting schemes punctuate beautifully the transitions Mr. Cobb makes in this amazing journey to individualization. Dignity lies in personhood.