Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Review of Al-Bassam's R3 in DC

I'm happy to report that our Arab Shakespeare panel last week went very well, thanks to the gracious moderating of Kristin Johnsen-Neshati and the wry presence of Michael Kahn of the Washington Shakespeare Theatre. ("Shakespeare's culture is foreign to me, too, as an American, even though I may speak his language. I've always thought it would be liberating not to be bound by his language...") Good attendance and interesting questions, too.

That night, the WaPo reviewer had mixed impressions of the show.
He's not wrong...
Since I last saw the show (Stratford 2007), Sulayman has made a major change in a key character, the US ambassador/General Richmond. He has fused the two (hard power in the Middle East is no longer even nominally separate from soft power, it seems) and brought in Nigel Barratt (the creepy Arms Dealer from his Al-Hamlet Summit) to play the resulting US official. Then in the last few days before the Kennedy Center opening (I am told), he rejiggered Mr. Richmond 180 degrees, from a sleazy Arms Dealer-type operator into a total incompetent schlub of an apparatchik: bathrobe&slippers, coffee mug, vaguely phrased Evangelical convictions expressed in a sloppy drawl. The idea of the bumbling occupier (not malicious, just high-handedly clueless) was nice, but the product wasn't quite fully cooked when I saw it. Barratt's acting seemed parodic: way too broad for the Kennedy Center audience, one as finely attuned to political semiotics as any you'd find in Damascus. It had none of the subtlety of Fayez Kazak's Richard or Monadhil Daoud's Catesby. I think they will surely tone it down for the BAM performance in June.

Meanwhile, the trail of journalists and documentarians around Sulayman continues to grow. At a post-show reception I met someone making a documentary film about him. (There have been others.) "Ah, hello. So you're my competition!" he said when I introduced myself as an academic who has written on Al-Bassam. (Hmmm.) And have I already posted the link to this segment on PBS' NewsHour? (Part of their very extensive coverage of the festival.)

Kuwaiti Theater Director Finds Modern Inspiration in Shakespeare
In the second of a series of reports on the Arabesque arts festival at the Kennedy
Center, Jeffrey Brown talks to Kuwaiti writer and theater director Sulayman al-Bassam, whose company is presenting a Shakespeare play with a twist, "Richard III: An Arab Tragedy."

Transcript and streaming video here.

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