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Dangers of the art"istic"
(Posted in art but mean art generally)

I saw a performance of Othello this weekend. It was awful. Although there was little chemistry on stage between the ctors, it wasn't their fault. That honor fell entirely to the director. Shakespeare does not need to be re-envisioned. That's not to say it can't be or even it should be, only, that if it is, it should be done so with the most extreme precision. Not only did this particular version, directed by Peter Sellers (not the actor) lack precision, it lacked evidence of artistic effort.

The director's reasoning for a re-envisioning of Othello is that in an Obama world we need to update the bard's racial position to fit America's. To do so the play only has two white actors. Othello is played by an hispanic actor and the remaining cast is either black or Hispanic. In casting the play Sellers is not updating the race issue to fit contemporary standards, he is evaporating it from the text. I don't understand his reasoning, if anything I would imagine Obama as president would justify even more of a focus on Othello's race. Race in America has hardly changed with a black President.

The other big issue of the play (passing over the decision to confusingly leave the actors onstage when not in the scene) which brings me to the topic of the post was the choice of set. It was a bare stage save for a few chairs, beer bottles, and a giant bed made out of television screens. It is the bed that bothered me. It was obviously the basis for the set and definitely our focus. It was the bed where Othello and Desdamona awkwardly pet each other even when they weren't in the scene. Throughout the play images were displayed on the many television screens which made the bed to no effect. Either the images were so abstract that I could match them with the action or else they were entirely irrelevant.

I passed the theater a few days after I saw the performance and the show was just letting out. I asked a quick sample what they thought. Of 15 people 13 said good and two said "ehh." I am confident that the people who said good really thought it was. But, I propose, what they termed good was merely the director's artistic choices (the ones above). ie: because it was different and the director took liberties and is a big name and had famous actors, it is automatically good. The dangers I speak of in the title are best summed up by the television screen bed which added nothing to the play only made it seem much more visionary. But really it was just lightly masked pretension. Before you can adapt  or alter an original you must get a grasp of what the original play meant. In this version, and in many similar productions I imagine, the technology and changes are given precedence over the original material.

In conclusion, how do we as audience members learn to separate actual artistic merit from pretension?
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Latest Post: October 1, 2009 at 9:59 PM
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