Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Cobb, who wrote and appears in the 85-minute play, draws on his own love of Shakespeare to consider issues of perspective and (often unintentional) racial bias in the theater and larger society. Shakespeare wrote his words to be spoken aloud and heard, Cobb notes, not to be read, and the actor ("I was an actor. It wasn't a choice," he says) finds inspiration in the Bard's speeches.
However, he works with acting teachers and directors who can't see beyond his color. Why, he asks, can't he work on one of Hamlet's or Romeo's soliloquies, or even speeches by Juliet or Titania? Theater is all about shared illusion, so why must he be limited to Shakespeare's dark-skinned roles like villainous Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus or the Prince of Morocco, who has one scene in The Merchant of Venice?
Cobb speaks face-to-face with audience members before getting into a combative dialogue with a director (Josh Tyson, seated in the last row) who has brought him in to audition for the role of Othello. ("'The Big O'? Who says that?" he asks the glib director.) Cobb shifts from interior monologue, in a sometimes guttural African-American vernacular, to his "actor" voice when he questions the director's take on the Moor of Venice. "You wouldn't understand a word of what's not being said," he says, emphasizing the fact that the noblemen of Venice who respect Othello as a valiant general still consider him a curiosity they keep around to tell exotic stories of his past. The man has his dignity, but he has to accommodate himself to his society.
Director Kim Weild guides Cobb through the back and forth of his characterization with unobtrusive skill, never overpowering the majesty and rage of his performance. Another subtle support is John Alexander's lighting design, which brightens during the "onstage" scenes and becomes more muted as the actor slips into his reveries.