Listen! : “American Moor”

Keith Hamilton Cobb is jacked.

By Keith Hamilton Cobb
Presented by the Office of War Information (Bureau of Theatre)
Directed by Kim Weild
Presented at the Boston Center for the Arts

July 19th – August 12th
Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont Street, Boston
Office of War Information on Facebook

Review by Danielle Rosvally

A note to the cast and crew of American Moor, and the associates of the Office of War Information (Bureau of Theatre), the Queen Geek came down with a summer flu virus that has kept her away from her posting duties. I offer you my heartfelt apologies. Please know that Mrs. Rosvally is in no way to blame for the tardiness of this review.  -KD

(Boston, MA) I am, to be completely honest, still in a state of shocked awe at what I witnessed during Keith Hamilton Cobb’s American Moor last night.  Normally, my job as a critic is to give an honest opinion of the things I see onstage: the acting, the direction, the design… sometimes the writing….

But what can I, a white woman who works in academia and thereby can be seen as a cultural gatekeeper in many ways, say about the raw roil of humanity that Cobb presents so bravely, so truthfully, so touchingly onstage in this piece?  How can I judge this?  How can I describe it to you?  Words, truly, fail.

This piece was easily the best thing I’ve seen in Boston since moving here five years ago.  It has humor, weight, depth, and a compelling narrative.  It draws you in with its charm, and holds you there to discuss the real issues at work.  Keith Hamilton Cobb is not only insanely talented as a playwright (oh, yea, he also wrote the piece), but his incredible gift for performance is showcased spectacularly.  Cobb is mesmerizing; smart, energetic, a veritable chameleon.  Over the course of the piece, he transforms himself time and time again before the audience’s eyes; blithely skipping between identities and making this act of self-transformation look as easy as breathing.

The subject he tackles, and the way he tackles it, is clearly not as easy as breathing.  This piece discusses race relations in theatre, and in the United States, like nothing I’ve ever seen before.  It expresses the anger, the rage, the joy, the triumph, and the utter frustration of the black male performer explicitly and humanly.  It explores the relationship between black performer and white director, unpacks the deep history that this relationship invokes, and forces the audience to come face to face with some ugly truths about the way we conduct business in theatrical America.

For that, it’s not preachy.  It invites and incites conversation.  It’s a piece that wants to be discussed; that begs to be taken into the world as a vibrant playbook for human interaction.    Based on the audience response last night, it’s a piece that screams to be recognized; a story that needs to be told and (more importantly) needs to be heard.

I think this piece should be required viewing.  It should be required for directors, actors, Shakespeareans of any bent.  It should be required for students, for teachers, and for anyone who comes into contact with people who are part of marginalized groups.  It should be required for social workers, for community builders, and for anyone who wants to learn about what it takes to understand other human beings.

Check your privilege at the door, and go ready to hear what Cobb needs to tell you.  Trust me; you need to hear it.

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