Sunday, August 08, 2010

A Moor in Boston

Third day in Boston, last Friday, SK and I went university visiting. We walked round Harvard Yard and into troops of Chinese students touring what could be their future alma mater. SK told me that in China there is a flourishing industry whose sole service is to get local students into American Ivy League schools.

The last time I was here, six years ago, it was winter and the Yard was brown and hard. Now I was struck by how green it was. The Harvard Museum of Natural History put on a special exhibition on evolution. The exhibition text was somewhat strident in tone. It insisted that the theory was supported by "overwhelming evidence" and repeated that the theory was a "fact." I loved the glass flowers as much as I did before. So many grasses on display, that the show might be better named Leaves of Glass.

We had lunch at the popular Bartleby's Gourmet Burgers. There was a long line. My Michelle Obama (cajun, goat cheese) was good, but nothing special. After lunch we browsed at the Harvard Bookstore. SK bought a history of China put out by HUP. I was too lazy to lug round a book, and so bought nothing. We decided to skip the art museum, and went to see MIT instead.

The atmosphere here, compared to Harvard, was palpably less solemn, more nervy.  There was no center to the confusing jumble of buildings in eclectic styles. The faith here was not in tradition, but in technology. Science was less theory (or fact) than application, has less to do with causes and more to do with curiosity. If I were passionate about science, I would join MIT instead of Harvard.

In the evening, we watched the Commonwealth Shakespeare Company perform Othello in Boston Common. The action unfolded so quickly from the start that it must rival Macbeth for tightness of plot construction. Seth Gilliam was too short to play the Moor. When he stood beside tall willowy Marianna Bassham, who played Desdemona, the couple looked somewhat comical. He could not make up in intensity for what he lacked in height. Bassham was a trivial flirt, and so it was hard to see what Othello saw in her, besides her blond hair and pale skin.

Most damaging to the production was James Waterston's Iago. He was a mere manipulative villain, more suitable for melodrama than tragedy. His soliloquies addressed the audience, and so became public connivance instead of private colloquies with a troubled, hateful self. The best acting in this production directed by Steven Maler came from Dan Roach. His Cassio was young, naive, vulnerable. He spoke Shakespeare with clarity and feeling.

We stood in line again, this time for Edge@ Club Cafe. The floor was too crowded for real dancing, and so I danced on stage, with some others, for a while. The clubbers were more diverse in ethnicity, age and appearance than the places we visited the last two nights. I saw a few ethnically mixed couples, but not many.

No comments: