American Moor

Keith Hamilton Cobb
Red Bull Theater
Red Bull Theater, New York

American Moor

Using Zoom from their respective homes, the original cast recreate what is close to a passionate, personal monologue delivered by the playwright, Keith Hamilton Cobb.

While there can be little doubt that his muscular presence on stage would have added something to the live version, seen at Cherry Lane Theatre in the fall (autumn) of 2019, this piece is an excellent choice to go online.

With his deep, mellifluous voice, expressive face and lively wit, Keith Hamilton Cobb effortlessly holds the attention through a 90-minute performance during which he expresses his love of Shakespeare, at the same time as allowing viewers to understand the difficulties of being an African-American actor wishing to enter the realm of the classics.

Even as he was taking his first small steps in the profession, the aspiring actor was constantly patronised, failing to persuade a prospective coach that he could be cast as any of Titania, Juliet, Hamlet or Romeo.

Instead, at a time 20 years before the Black Lives Matter movement threatened to change the world forever, he was rather cynically directed towards such choice parts as Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus and the Prince of Morocco in The Merchant of Venice.

There was therefore an inevitability of the actor’s progression towards an audition for the title role in Othello. In trying his luck, he benefits from the dubious advice of the company’s patronising, white Artistic Director Michael Aaron Miller, an unconscious and probably well-meaning bigot. His directorial intercessions allow those beyond the acting profession to get a glimpse of how a certain breed of director likes to inspire (in their own eyes) even the most experienced of performers.

The play uses powerful, muscular language to analyse Shakespeare in uncommon fashion but also to bring out the black acting experience in USA today. By the end, not only will devotees have learned much about the views of their guide thanks to his interior monologues but most will also yearn to see him playing Othello or, for that matter, any other leading Shakespearean role.

While Keith Hamilton Cobb is his own autobiographical star, he gets dutiful support from Josh Tyson playing the director with Ayana Workman holding the performance together reading stage directions.

American Moor is a nicely judged combination of autobiography, theatrical tittle tattle, homage to the Bard and commentary on a world in which, for far too long, black lives have been patronised rather than mattering. As such, it makes for compelling viewing.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher