Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of AMERICAN MOOR?
Red Bull Theater presents Keith Hamilton Cobb's acclaimed play American Moor, making its Off-Broadway premiere at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce St), in a production directed by Kim Weild and produced in collaboration with Evangeline Morphos, Frederick M. Zollo, Elizabeth I. McCann and Tom Shea.
The strictly limited engagement of Cobb's "spellbinding journey through Shakespeare and race" (Boston Globe) will begin performances on Tuesday, August 27, 2019, with an official opening night set for Sunday, September 8, 2019.
An indomitable African-American actor auditioning for the role of Othello must respond to the dictates of a younger, white director who presumes to better understand Shakespeare's iconic black character. What could possibly go wrong? In this 90-minute, multi-award winning play, this fraught audition turns into an exploration of Shakespeare, race, and America (not necessarily in that order). Fueled by humor and passion, American Moor paints an essential portrait of an American theater unaware of its failures, and of the culture that supports it.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Jesse Green, The New York Times: But as telling as these connections are, they eventually come to seem both calculated and rote. Cycling at predictable intervals between Keith's long, interior harangues and his brief, prickly interactions with the director, the play acquires a ticktock rhythm that prevents the buildup of momentum. And since there is very little action in either mode - you will wait in vain for a breakdown or fistfight - both, lacking clear contours, grow muddy.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Actually, most of "American Moor" is not what takes place in an audition but rather in the actor's head after he's given directorial suggestions on how to perform the role in question. Since Cobb has clearly been here before, many times, a racially tinged remark from the director sends him off into long hallucinatory analyses of white patriarchy, black abeyance, the Method, truncated rehearsal schedules, the mid-Atlantic accent and directors who think they can read the Bard's mind a few centuries after the fact. Cobb offers up a scrambled reality, and his performance is enhanced by Wilson Chin's set, Alan C. Edwards lighting, Christian Frederickson's sound design, and Kim Weild's always fluid direction.
David Finkle, New York Stage Review: Audience members, whether sympathizing or empathizing are likely to identity, if not entirely identify, with the actor's rage, but it also may be that within the confines of Cobb's play, a point is reached when anger starts to feel like an indulgence. Granted that the pent-up black anger finally emerging throughout the land is at last recognized and even welcomed. But launched at a director whom Cobb has written as a man not a thorough buffoon, American Moor can't sustain the volume and attenuation of its recognizably honest intentions.
Matt Windman, amNY: Directed by Kim Weild, "American Moor" tackles the goal of many theater companies to be in active conversation with the classics -- rather than simply revive them with an uncritical eye -- and find inspired ways to make them feel relevant in today's world. The issues presented in the play (which might be acknowledged by theater artists in private) deserve to be directly confronted onstage, too.
David Roberts, OnStage Blog: During the curtain call, the audience at this performance quickly rose up on their feel to deliver enthusiastic applause. One wonders if this apparent sign of "having heard the truth" might really be, in the throes of fear, saying to Keith Hamilton Cobb, "Thanks for coming." If one thing is clear from revisiting the significance of the Moor, it might be to remain mindful of the "fear and trembling unto death" that threatens the hearing of the truth that could ultimately set us free from the ravages of systemic racism in America.
Photo Credit: Monica Simoes