Much Ado About Some Things

September-October 2015

Events   Literary News
National Theatre's Jane Eyre
From Sept 8; London UK: In co-production with Bristol Old Vic, National Theatre stages Sally Cookson's adaptation of the classic Charlotte Brontë novel Jane Eyre. Surviving poverty, injustice, and betrayal, Jane, a destitute orphan, grows up to fall in love and, ultimately, follow her heart. For more details, click here.

Yale's Shakespeare Ripoff in LA
Sept. 8-Oct. 18; Los Angeles, CA: With Atlantic Theater Company, Geffen Playhouse presents
the Yale Repertory production of These Paper Bullets: A Modish Ripoff of William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing. From Liverpool, four 1960s rock stars (modeled on the Beatles) arrive to wow and woo the ladies of London. Click here for details.

Princeton U Stages Baby Doll
Sept. 11-Oct. 11; Princeton, NJ: With Pierre Laville, Princeton's Emily Mann adapts the Tennessee Williams film Baby Doll to drama for the Princeton stage. On a dilapidated Mississippi estate, a cotton-gin owner strives to recover financially and connect with his young, frustrated wife. Click here for more details.

Othello in Cinemas Worldwide
From September 23; cities worldwide: See the Royal Shakespeare Company's daring update of Shakespeare's tragedy about a black general, his white wife, and the tragedy that ensues when they fall victim to the machinations of the general's lowly ensign. For more details, see the article to the right. To find a venue near you, click here.

Hedda Gabler at Indiana U
Sept. 25-Oct. 2; Bloomington, IN: MFA students star in Henrik Ibsen's drama about a selfish, cynical, bored housewife who exacts revenge on a former suitor in a series of events that leads ultimately to two suicides. Click here for performance details.

Anne Frank at U Texas
Oct. 8-18; Austin, TX: The University of Texas at Austin stages Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett's adaptation of the memoir The Diary of Anne Frank, about a young Jewish girl's life in hiding from Nazi persecution. For details, click here.

Lope de Vega at Houston U
Oct. 9-18; Houston, TX: Houston University stages Lope de Vega's Fuenteovejuna, about a cruel overlord who kidnaps the mayor's daughter and her fiancé on their wedding day. Escaping his clutches, the daughter survives to exact deadly revenge in a plot that involves political intrigue and torture. Click here for more details.

Waiting for Godot at NYU
October 13-17; New York, NY: Co-presented by NYU and Irish theatre company Gare St Lazare Ireland, the Samuel Beckett play features two friends who pass the time in banter as they await a mystery man named Godot. Click here for more info.

Macbeth at U Wisconsin
Oct. 21-25; Milwaukee, WI, It's the year 2020 and the Macbeths are local leaders who, true to the Shakespeare tragedy, let ambition trump morals for worldly power. This is an intimate, actor-centered staging with few visual elements. For more details, click here.

Much Ado at Otterbein U
Oct. 22-31; Westerville, OH: Shakespeare's comedy centers on two love matches. Claudio adores Hero until gossip interferes, while cousin Beatrice loathes Benedict until gossip interferes. In the end, disaster is narrowly averted and marriage claims the day. Click here for more details.

Twelfth Night at Florida State U
Oct. 30-Nov. 8; Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University performs the Bard's comedy of twins separated by shipwreck. Viola disguises herself as a young man to serve a duke, whom she herself desires, becoming the go-between between him and another lady in matters of love. For more details, click here.

Dana Awards in Three Genres
Oct. 31 deadline; Greensboro, NC: Private benefactor welcomes submissions to the Dana Awards contests for a new unpublished novel (first 40 pages only), short fiction (limit 10,000 words), or group of poems (5 poems in total). Motivational, the prizes consist of $1,000 in each genre for unpublished work. Click here for more details.

  Young Nigerian Author Up for 2015 Man Booker Prize
The 2015 Man Booker Prize, a literary award for excellent fiction written in English and published in the U.K., announced its longlist on July 29. The prize comes a cash award of £50,000 (about $7700)  to one of 13 authors who have been longlisted. A notable contender is The Fishermen, by 29-year-old Nigerian Chigozie Obiama, currently Assistant Professor at the University of Nebraska. His first novel, the work features four Igbo brothers in the western Nigerian town of Akure in 1996. Ikenna, Boja, Obembe, and Benjamin are ages 14, 13, 11, and 9 at the outset—Benjamin narrates. Their father, a strict patriarch, works at the Central Bank of Nigeria. To the devastation of the family, the bank transfers him to the northern town of Yola, “a camel distance of more than one thousand kilometres [≈ 620 miles] away.” It’s a brutal city, marked by “bloody sectarian riots.” Moving the family there is out of the question. So, taking on the “gait of a wet mouse” and a look of “impenetrable gloom,” the mother is left to care for the four boys (along with their younger sister) while continuing to work as merchant of a food stand. The father has career ambitions for his sons; he expects them to become doctors, pilots, professors, lawyers. But, in his absence, the established routine of “composure, obedience, study, and compulsory siesta” loses all weight. His “long arm that often wielded the whip” snaps “like a tired tree branch” and the boys break free. After skipping school and getting into fights, they take to fishing in the river that runs through the town, the Omi-Ala; once clear and clean, the Omi-Ala was formerly worshipped by Africans, but now it’s mired in filth. The boys are undeterred.

We did not mind the smell of the bracken waters, the winged insects that gathered in blobs around the banks every evening and the nauseating sight of algae and leaves that formed the shape of a map of troubled nations at the far and of the river bank where varicose trees dipped into the waters. We spent every single day with corroding tins, dead insects, melting worms, dressed mostly in rags and old clothing. For we derived great joy from this fishing, despite the difficulties and meager returns.

While fishing, they meet Abulu, the town madman, a soothsayer. He predicts that Ikenna, the eldest brother, will be killed by one of the other three. Family life unravels. The boys’ mother is hospitalized with a nervous breakdown, and their father, stripped of his ability to preserve the family unit, deteriorates. Suspicions flare, the boys weighed down by the doom of the prophecy. Fights grow vicious. Could the madman’s prediction be right?


Irish Writers Respond to World's Refugee Crisis
News Flash Dublin; Sept. 18: Given a photo of refugees from the Central African Republic, South Sudan, or Syria, 15 Irish authors imagine the life of the pictured and respond with a fictional piece, poem, or personal reflection, then share their work in a bookshop exhibition. For a preview, click here.

TThe RSC’s Startlingly New Othello
The devil is in the details when it comes to Shakespeare’s Othello and to its groundbreaking new retelling by the Royal Shakespeare Company, opening in cinemas worldwide September 23. Still set in Venice and Cyprus, the story is the same: Black middle-aged general elopes with young white noblewoman, promotes his white officer Cassio to lieutenant, and falls prey to the snares of a lowlier officer, Iago (who, in the original, is also white). Diabolical, Iago persuades the militarily self-confident but romantically insecure Othello that his wife has been unfaithful with Cassio, to tragic effect. So how does the RSC break new ground? For the first time in the company's 54-year history, a black actor (Lucian Msamati) plays Iago. The director is Iqbal Khan; the dialogue, Shakespeare’s—mostly. But costumes and props have been updated. Guns, knives, and modern torture tactics (e.g., waterboarding) replace swords.

In some ways, having a black man play Iago minimizes race, makes Othello (played by Hugh Quarshie) not the only outsider. In other ways, race takes on new prominence. Darker-skinned than Othello, this Iago hates the general, but is momentarily disturbed when he’s called “thick lips.” Iago himself refers to Othello as “the Moor” in an edgy tone (as if to ask, Why aren’t I the notable African here?). Other details point to a new type of race consciousness in Iago too. He frowns on Othello’s assimilationist tactics (or is this sour grapes?) and, at party time, breaks into African folk song. He's as conniving as ever, though—fatherly to lovelorn Roderigo (James Corrigan), brotherly to Cassio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), awkwardly comforting to Othello's spurned wife, Desdemona (Joanna Vanderham). It's all a ruse, of course. At a truer moment, Iago fails to return the hopeful kiss of his own wife, Emilia (Ayesha Dharker), when she delivers the "evidence" he covets to spur Othello on (a strawberry-embroidered handkerchief, as usual, but black, not white, in this show). He’s the cold, calculating Iago we've always known. Yet we fear for his safety, after seeing how ferociously violent this Othello can be. He's startlingly vicious when he slaps Desdemona (Joanna Vanderham) in public, and in private, he tortures the “truth” out of Iago. Strapping him to a chair, Othello nearly suffocates Iago with a plastic bag. The show's Desdemona surprises too. Not just a devoted wife, she’s sexy, pleasure-loving, and feisty (plausible cause for worry). She bristles at Othello's abuse, removing herself with a bitter delivery of Shakespeare's line: “I will not stay to offend you.” There's new text earlier in the play, when a drunken and, in this show, openly racist Cassio trades insults with Montano, black governor of Cyprus in a modern-style battle rap. It has Montano fire back lyrics about what happens when a white lieutenant gets hold of a gun, tying the play to police tension in our own age. All this action unfolds on a remarkable set. There's a stone archway that's cracked, a rose window that's crumbling. The set pieces themselves are telling. Under a central pool of water sit three huge panels that rise or fall, depending on the need for a Venetian canal, solid ground, or Desdemona’s bath. Click for a look at the Othello-Iago dynamic.

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