Wednesday, April 27, 2011

If you happen to be in Boston...

Join us to celebrate the birthday of the Bard this Saturday in Harvard Square!
Shakespeare Party
Actors' Shakespeare Project, Harvard Square Business Association &
ORFEO Group are pleased to once again announce 
a birthday extravaganza for Mr. William Shakespeare and the Bookish Ball: 

Saturday, April 30th
in Harvard Square
from 12:00-4:30 pm.
Timeline for the day:
12:00: Parade starts at Hotel Veritas, One Remington Avenue
12:00 - 6:00: Bookish Ball at participating bookstores 
12:30 -3:30 - Activity tables in Harvard Square on Palmer Street
1:00-3:00 - Performances at the Palmer Street Stage
3:00-4:30 - Shakespeare SLAM! at Redline (14 JFK Street) - tickets can be reserved on April 30th at ORFEO Group's activity table

All events are FREE and all ages are welcome!!
Parade and SLAM! will take place come rain or shine.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Monadhil Daood to produce Romeo and Juliet in London 2012

Among the works commissioned for the RSC-produced World Shakespeare Festival, directed by the RSC's Deborah Shaw and coming up next year (April to September) as part of the London 2012 Festival associated with the Olympics:
Romeo and Juliet, directed by Monadhil Daood - Iraqi Theatre Company, Baghdad
Shakespeare’s great love story, set against a backdrop of conflict between families, communities and generations, finds new purchase in the soil of contemporary Iraq, where sectarian strife between Sunni and Shia, ignited and fuelled from outside, has left its population exhausted by a cycle of violence and revenge. Baghdad’s Iraqi Theatre Company will create a Romeo and Juliet for a new generation, infused with Iraq’s rich traditions of poetry, music and ritual.
For Monadhil's previous work, see the Baghdad Iraqi Theatre's web site.  He also played a hammy Polonius in Sulayman Al-Bassam's Al-Hamlet Summit and a terrifying Catesby in Al-Bassam's Richard III.

UPDATE 7/8/11: Full details of the RSC's World Shakespeare Festival to be announced in September, but it seems the RSC is one of the collaborators in the London 2012 festival; it's listed as a partner on this show and others. There's also going to be an RSC production that is explicitly international, provocatively titled, "What Country, Friends, is This?"

Comparing Iraqi politicians to Othello

Writing on the Sotaliraq (Voice of Iraq) web site, op-ed writer Majid `Anqabi compares Iraq's governing elite to Othello (in Arabic). The headline is "Shakespeare's play Othello and the Fear of the Liberation Square Demonstrators."
`Anqabi mentions the theory "held by specialist scholars" that Othello was insecure about Desdemona because he was unable to satisfy her sexually, and thus became vulnerable to jealousy and had to kill her. His analogy is that the ruling Iraqi elite, unable to satisfy its people (e.g., by providing normal state services) is insecure and feels forced to crack down brutally when they demonstrate in Baghdad's Tahrir Square. A new twist to the woman-as-nation analogy.  Also more evidence that most Arab readings of Othello are concerned with the spousal relationship, NOT the West.
Incidentally, the writer also invokes Safa' Khulusi and his nickname for Shakespeare, Shaykh Zubayr.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Clips from Al-Bassam's Twelfth Night adaptation

Sulayman has put up a few clips of Speaker's Progress, with surtitles. Some version of this show is coming to BAM and Boston's ArtsEmerson this fall.
(Sorry I can't quite get the video to be the right width - working on it. Link here.)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Happy Shakespeare Day

يوم شكسبير سعيد - Hope everyone had a fabulous Shakespeare Day!

I saw that the Biblioteca Alexandrina is celebrating with a film festival. Anyone else do anything special? Did you talk like Shakespeare today, for instance?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Syrian student "Twelfth Night" production

Amid everything happening in Syria, students at the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts put on a production of Twelfth Night (of all things) earlier this month.  `Ajaj Salim directed.

From the few pictures available it does not look like political allusions were the order of the day.  Too bad: one could have a lot of fun with Malvolio.

The show then traveled to Sharjah, where it received warm reviews in Al-Bayan and Al-Ittihad (both in Arabic).  Here's the press release with more background info.

"I'm Hamlet" to play in London 2012 Festival

Young Egyptian director Hani Afifi will stage his Hamlet adaptation, انا هاملت or I'm Hamlet, as part of the London 2012 festival around the Olympics, reports the Seventh Day site (in Arabic).  The play premiered at Cairo's Creativity Center in the summer of 2009 and was well received at the Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre that September; Muhammad Fahim, in the role of Hamlet, won the festival's Best Actor prize.  My favorite line is where Hamlet asks Ophelia (in the equivalent of the nunnery scene, which takes place at Cairo's upscale Cafe Cilantro: "But how can I date someone who has 500 friends on Facebook?"

"Ay, commerce you may call it"

From a roundup of Abu Dhabi financial news:
Shares of Abu Dhabi's first real estate firm Aldar Properties gained 2.45 percent to close at Dhs1.68. Earlier in the day, Aldar announced that it development The Souk at Central Market will open its doors in November 2010 [sic], and it will harbour Abu Dhabi's first Shakespeare & Co restaurant, a Grand Stores Digital, a variety of cafes as well as over 20 watch and jewellery stores.
The statement added, "The Emporium at Central Market, primarily a fashion retail destination, will also be home to brands such as E4U, Spinneys, Magrudy's, Ted Baker, Bebe, Evita Peroni Pandora Jewellery, Network, Fabrika, Beymen Business, Alison Nelson Chocolate Bar, Fat burger and Studio Misr."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Saad Hariri as Hamlet

Google just came across (on what looks to be some right-of-reasonable Jewish-themed blog) this satirical sketch comparing Saad Hariri to Hamlet (pursued by ghost of his father Rafik, even as evil stepfather Hassan Nasrallah seduces the weak mother/land, Lebanon-Gertrude).  Someone posted it back in January, when Saad's government collapsed. 
Hamlet [to himself]: And this is why I have returned from Dubai? When I could have as well managed the business from there, enjoying myself like a pig in the mud? Or even from London... oh London, London... And here, what do I have here? Shia, Sunni, Christians, Druze all scheming and aiming to kill each other, the heat, the Syrians, the Hezbollah, the Israelis for crying out loud... who needs all this crap? Now this revenge schtick too... no, I definitely should get a ticket and scram!
The framing is better than the writing, but whatcha gonna do?  Unlike Hamlet, Saad Hariri has never been known for his eloquence.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Merchant of Venice in Boston

This is not about "Arab Shakespeare" per se, but I want to write about this production, so I'll use the pretext that Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice does depict an Arab: the Prince of Morocco.  Though not as well known as Othello or Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus, the Moorish suitor echoes them in certain ways, loving Portia "not wisely but too well." Doomed by his unseemly fascination with luxury commodities (gold!), he chooses the wrong casket (all that glitters!) and quickly leaves the scene. 
The show I saw last weekend, by Theatre for a New Audience (directed by the Yugoslavian-born Darko Tresnjak) at ArtsEmerson in Boston, made the strange decision to costume the Prince of Morocco (the fine African-American actor Raphael Nash Thompson) as Gulf Arab royalty.  Here he is flanked by Portia and her staff on the left, his own weird attendants (why does his head of security look like a flight attendant for Emirati Airlines?) on the right.  Yes, that's an engraved sword he's presenting to Portia.
What's up with this?  The role is unabashed ethnic caricature, and in modern productions a sort of turbaned Leo Africanus (or Moorish Ambassador) getup is typical.  But playing the Prince this way let Tresnjak emphasize that this production was really about money as much as ethnic difference.  Portia (Kate MacCluggage)'s feelings toward this suitor were ambiguous; she allowed herself several apparently heartfelt racist comments ("May all of his complexion woo me so!"), but she also seemed very attracted to him physically and comfortable flirting with him.  The exotic sex appeal?  The oil money?  Both?  Unlike her second suitor, he was a dignified and well-spoken man, a true member of the international aristocracy.  In the end she may have been a bit disappointed (though she said otherwise) that he chose the wrong box, the one labeled "Who chooses me will get what many men desire."  Childish, conformist Moor.  What a pity. 

The odd portrayal of the Moor ties in with what was so strange about the whole production.  Tresnjak's Venice is made to resemble New York circa 2008, a glitzy and fratty town where the tone is set by young investment bankers flying high on testosterone and Starbucks.  The phones are smart and the Wall Street boys are too, trading the smug elbow jabs of financial capitalism at its most arrogant.
The setting has potential, but why isn't Shylock integrated into it?  He is simply a man attached to his home and his daughter and his tribe: not even necessarily a banker.  This makes him timeless, simply "a Jew."  We never see him in anything like a work or office setting; his home is full of decontextualized Jewish kitsch (lanterns, candelabra, vague klezmer music), a weird break from the Apple-store sleekness (as my sister-in-law observed) of the rest of the set.  This -- and the fact that Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham's acting towered over that of others, especially the milquetoast Portia -- makes the whole Wall Street setting with its 21st-century shenanigans suddenly irrelevant. The anti-Semitism is frat-boy cruel, but Shylock's response is simple atavism.
Everything else the production has going for it -- Portia's evident jealousy of her Bassanio's love for the closeted Antonio, Jessica's visibly growing nausea at the betrayal she has committed, Gobbo's rap antics -- is overshadowed by this basic failure to integrate the production's strongest character into its underlying premise. Incomplete allegory is the biggest risk of contemporary-dress adaptations; this show succumbs.

By the way, the ArtsEmerson folks all but announced that Al-Bassam's Speaker's Progress is coming to Boston next fall.  Stay tuned!

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Annual Shakespeare Conference" at Biblioteca Alexandrina

Apparently the Shakespeare conference held in April at the Biblioteca Alexandrina is now an annual event.  This year's conference was devoted to "The Politics of Power in Shakespeare's History Plays." BA director Ismail Serageldin gave a lecture as part of the proceedings.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Qadhafi: Shakespeare Was an Arab Named Shaykh Zubayr

I've been looking for a source for the widely known fact that Muammar Qadhafi claimed Shakespeare was not a native-born Englishman but, in fact, an Arab named Shaykh Zubayr.
Cork Milner's site on the authorship controversy gives us this:
The most bizarre of all the pretenders is Muammar al-Qaddafi's choice, Sheik Zubayr bin William. Quaddafi came up with his champion in 1989 when Radio Tehran announced that Libya's “Great One” had declared that an Arab sheik named Zubayr bin William, who had been born in the sixteenth century, was Shakespeare.
I should point out that Qadhafi did not originate the bizarre claim that Shakespeare was a crypto-Arab.  Usually cited in jest, the Shaykh Zubayr “theory” holds that Shakespeare was actually an Arab Muslim living in Britain.  Various authors cite “evidence” including Shakespeare’s full lips and “Islamic” beard in the supposedly "un-English" Chandos portrait(above); his many treatments of mistaken or doubtful identity; and his allegedly unflattering views of Jews, Turks, and the British (supposedly clear in The Merchant of Venice, Othello, and the history plays).  Who but an Arab could harbor unfavorable views of precisely these three groups?

M.M. Badawi ("Shakespeare and the Arabs," 1964) and Ferial Ghazoul ("The Arabization of Othello," 1998) trace the
Shaykh Zubayr authorship theory to a mid-nineteenth-century Lebanese satirical writer, Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq; it was later taken up in earnest by Iraqi scholar Ṣafā’ Khulūṣī and then painstakingly refuted by Ibrāhīm Ḥamāda in a book-length essay, عروبة شكسبير (“The Arabness of Shakespeare,” 1989). Qadhafi drew Western headlines by mentioning it (perhaps jokingly? who can tell with such a lunatic?) in 1989.  

But the conceit of an Arab Shakespeare has also appealed to all kinds of intercultural writers addressing Western readers.  My favorite is Wole Soyinka in his essay "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" (replublished in Art, Dialogue, and Outrage). In a similar vein, Jordanian-Irish-American novelist Diana Abu Jaber in her novel Crescent has an Iraqi-American character invoke the theory, tongue-in-cheek, speaking to an American graduate student: “Did you know that Shakespeare’s favorite food was stuffed eggplant?  And there’s some who say that Shakespeare’s name was actually Sheikh Zubayr . . . There’s a nice thesis for you.’”  (132).  Sulayman al-Bassam resorts to a similar opening gambit in a 2005 Guardian column. So the authorship theory can be a playful bid for intercultural understanding, not only (as with Qadhafi) an insane claim of Arab cultural priority.
By the way, the would-be Arabic name preserves the phallic imagery of spear-shaking.  Zubr = penis.  So the diminutive zubayr, on one reading, is "little penis."  Shake it, Will, habibi!