Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bard on the Box

It’s a good weekend for Canadian drama. For the piece de resistance, this weekend tune in, PVR or record (old school), but don’t miss the ambitious Othello: The Tragedy of the Moor (Sunday, June 15, 9 pm, CBC). This isn’t Laurence Fishburne’s version of Othello, let’s make that clear.

In some ways, it’s simultaneously more innovative and yet more true to Shakespeare’s original text than other previous movie versions. Most contemporary theatre productions portray Othello as an African-American, though it’s believed by many scholars that Shakespeare had envisioned Othello as a Moroccan and a Muslim.

The later interpretation followed the events of human history, points out actor Carlo Rota (24, Little Mosque), who turns in a powerful performance in the lead role.

The production (which will air as a radio play on CBC Radio this Friday – June 13) features a plethora of recognizable Canadian and was co-written by Leo award-winner Zaib Shaikh (Little Mosque on the Prairie) and Matthew Edison.

Shaikh directed the piece, which opens symbolically with the wedding of Desdemona and Othello, as she places a Christian pendant around his neck, while he adorns her with jewelry bearing a crescent moon and star. Foreshadowing in iconography...It’s quickly obvious that this love will not conquer all.

“I hadn’t done Shakespeare before,” says the charismatic Rota, who strikes a commanding figure. “But the experience of being successful and an immigrant is one I could relate to.”

Matthew Deslippe, Shaikh’s partner in Governor Films and a colleague from Stratford, co-stars as Iago. Rota, Shaikh and Deslippe all served as executive producers. Christine Horne (The Stone Angel) is a gorgeous Desdemona. Nazneen Contractor (The Border) appears as Bianca in the tale of prejudice, betrayal, envy and murder. All turn in compelling performances.

A universal tale, which can be said of all the Bard’s work, Othello has been much studied by academics and is largely understood to be the tale of a prideful man’s ruin, brought on by the betrayals of those closest to him. Without giving away the plot, Othello’s insecurities and view of himself as an outsider are what are ultimately make him vulnerable to the manipulations of others, and to his own destruction.

“The idea of serving the play was very important, but we essentially had to cut half the play out,” says Shaikh. “You can’t just cut it. You have to sculpt it and shape it and actually illuminate it in a different way. And yet somehow remain true to [it].”

The effort’s a success. Love. Lust. Envy. All are at the heart of Othello, which Shaikh and Deslippe miraculously adapted into a two-hour telefilm, while keeping major plot points intact.

The handsome actor best known for playing the funny, sarcastic sweetheart of an imam, Amaar, on Little Mosque began his career in theatre, took on the project as a labour of love and dedication. He holds a Masters degree (MFA) in directing from U.B.C.

“It’s time to explore different ways of getting people back to liking the world of theatre,” he says of his interest in dramatizing the play for TV.

“Theatre is exciting, and it should be,” says Shaikh. “I never sought to do this for TV because it wasn’t interesting enough for theatre. I thought to do this for television and film because theatre IS so interesting. It needs to be shared.

“Hopefully that excitement transfers.”

It does.

Also this weekend: Nick Campbell returns to the role that made him a household name in Canada in The Quality of Life: A Dominic Da Vinci Movie (Saturday, June 14, 9 pm, CBC). Yep, the man called “Canada’s best actor,” by Chris Haddock, stars with Mary Walsh, Hugh Dillon, Michael Murphy and Ben Ratner in a TV movie that picks up where Da Vinci’s City Hall left off. Murder, mayhem and intrigue.

Sounds like any another week in Vancouver’s municipal politics. Seriously. NO wonder Larry Campbell headed for the relative sanity of the Canadian Senate.

Look for my full report and interviews with Haddock and Campbell this weekend in Canwest’s TV TIMES.
This weekend also marks the debut of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria, (Sunday, June 15, 8 PM, CBC). We’ll have more about the series, hosted by the funny Gavin Crawford, in a future post.

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