Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Othello, Circa 2014, on the Hudson

YWAA director Bruce Jennings '71 (top, L) organized the YWAA day at Boscobel, which featured a pre-performance lecture by Yale professor Murray Biggs (top, R) (YWAA, Kaminsky, Williams photos).
The new artistic director of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Davis McCallum, is a Princeton man. Leopold Lowe, the actor who played the lead role in its summer production of " Othello," studied acting at Harvard. A Yale professor, Murray Biggs, meanwhile, provided insight, guidance and inspiration at his "Othello" lecture to an audience of Yale alumni and friends before the Aug. 24 performance at the YWAA's annual outing at Boscobel in Garrison.

Biggs' pre-performance presentation, as usual, brought clarity to the conventional chaos and hurling of emotions and bodies in a Shakespearean tragedy.  A Yale faculty member for 28 years, Biggs has delivered his Shakespeare lecture to Yale Westchester for many years, including before last year's HVSF performance of "All's Well That Ends Well."  YWAA-at-Boscobel productions in recent years include "Hamlet" and "Comedy of Errors."

Christopher Edwards directed this " Othello" production, presenting a setting reflecting modern times. Characters wondered about the stage staring at iPhones. They preferred sending text messages, instead of dispatching them via ragged copies of parchment.

Othello's squadron of soldiers might well have been a cadet troop on weekend leave from nearby West Point. Actors strutted to and fro, as if they were appearing in a rap video. One scene ("Hard Work") evoked sounds and rhythms from a recent beverage television commercial.

But Shakespeare's dialogue and storyline ruled. Iago and Othello debated, sparred and clashed on stage, and as always, the audience was forced to figure out where all the deceit and maneuvering would lead. Whose demise was next?

YWAA director and former president Bruce Jennings '71 organized the YWAA day at Boscobel, as he has done for many years, and assured the Yale community that Prof. Biggs would be present to provide Shakespeare coaching and remind all that the bard's tragedies might have harsh endings.

The tragic climax notwithstanding, YWAA attendees embraced Boscobel's sunset-on-the-Hudson setting. Rain, heat, and humidity, which might have marred past productions, were barred this Sunday evening. The picturesque Hudson River, with West Point hovering, was a perfect background for Othello's soldiers preparing for battle.

When Othello and wife Desdemona bounced around the stage in love, there were even hints of fall chill.  YWAA at Boscobel is also a reminder that summer is winding down.

Yale professor Biggs discusses the characters of Othello (top, R) with YWAA guests, who also enjoyed a pre-performance picnic. (YWAA, Kaminsky photos)
The rain, heat and humidity of past productions stayed away. Boscobel patrons soaked in the setting before convening under the tent for the evening performance of "Othello." (YWAA photos)

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