Everybody who knows me knows I love plays!! Musicals, not so much. Just straight plays. So whenever I get invited to review a play I’m in heaven; especially if it turns out to be good. Well, I went to see The American Moor, written and performed by Keith Hamilton Cobb and it was GREAT!! For starters, I was already a fan of Keith’s. Y’all remember him, he’s widely recognized for his roles as ‘Noah Keefer’ on ABC's All My Children, ‘Tyr Anasazi’ on Gene Rodenberry's Andromeda, and ‘Quincy Abrams’ for the series, Noah's Arc on the Logo Network. The man is just absolutely gorgeous and very well preserved!! However, looks ain’t everything! To keep me engaged, I need to be entertained!! Surprisingly, this play did just that!
The American Moor is the exploration of the American Black Male through the metaphor of Shakespeare’s Othello. The play is about this American man who is recognized for his blackness before anything else. Shocking!! That’s my sarcasm of course. LOL. As a black person, I am soooo aware of the fact that people see our color before they see us. And I don’t mean our black skin because all African American’s don’t have black skin. I mean, who ‘THEY’ think we are. In #TheAmerican Moor, that issue was tackled in such a fresh and unique way. In 78 minutes, the playtakes us on a journey from the hilarious to the heinous, revealing the literally fleeting moments that a large, black stage actor experiences during an audition before a younger white director for the lead role in William Shakespeare’s, #Othello. It’s an excellent exploration of white culture dictating rules of conduct to a non-white, from an often inadvertent place of privilege. Hmmm, White Privilege?? That’s a new notion!! Again, my sarcasm. LOL.
Anywhoo, Keith Hamilton Cobb killed it!! I mean, he took the audience through a roller coaster of emotions as he was making the effort, during the audition, to knock down the walls of stereotypes that the director had no clue was a part of him. Well, at least not at the start. To see this larger than life black man stand on that stage and cry, and shout, and curse, and talk, and plead, was painful, yet inspiring!! When I looked around the room, many of the black men were crying and clapping and cheering, in their own, subtle, but obvious ways. You saw in their faces, in their bodies, in their stillness, that they connected with the man in the audition. But what was more interested was how the white people began to open up to his pain and struggle as well; which is universal.
Although I had seen the roll of Othello played by actors #LawrenceFishburn, #MekhiPhifer and #EamonnWalker, not until this play did I understand Shakespear’s portrayal of the Moor as misogynistic, narcissistic and abusive. In #TheAmericanMoor, the character was fighting with the director in his audition, to be able to see Othello in the way he sees him and not how he wanted him to be seen. POWERFUL!! This play begs the question, do Black Lives Matter??
The talkback after was equally as riveting!! It took the discussion about race to a whole ‘nother’ level!! Keith Hamilton Cobb, the director Paul Kwame Johnson, the co-star Josh Tyson who played the director Michal Aaron Miller and also joined by Dr. Akil Khalfani, Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Essex County Community College in Newark, NJ, opened up a wonderful dialogue that was welcoming and eye opening!! “The play pushes the idea about accountability and compassion. How we think about the corporate world and this play,” explains Khalfani. “If we can see the African American as not seen, the question becomes how do you become seen?? Can the actor and Othello avoid the stigma of being blackened?? Avoid being invisible??” Those questions really got the audience’s attention and passionate participation; of all races!!
“Brabanziois a metaphor for how black men walk through the world. The only way to over come that is talk. Which is at the crux of the play,” addresses Hamilton. I'm not making a case here for black people being the only people who aren’t seen. I want everybody to connect and feel what they feel. The struggle that the actor is having is not showing the anger and aggression so that you can be heard. Represent something that isn't the stigma. However there are aspects of blackness that I feel pride-full about and I want people to see.”
“The play was beautifully written. It was Shakespearean,” said Johnson. “My job was to help Keith to go from reality so that the arguments could be clear.” Which is precisely what happened!! It was amazing to observe a white woman from the audience share that she learned how too people get over their fear of the big black man to begin to have the discussion. That's Keith's hope for The American Moor.
Welp, “You have entered MY WORLD!! Where I tell it MY WAY!!” So for #MoorToThisStory, go to see The American Moor, showing until this Sunday, May 10, 2015, At: The Wild Project 195 East 3rd Street New York, NY 10009 Tickets – 212.352.3101 Questions – 212.465.3446 or log onto phoneixtheatreensemble.org/American-Moor. Also check out www.KeithHamiltonCobb.com for more information.