As some of you probably know, one of the things I did this summer was Masked. For anyone who doesn’t know, it’s a play by Ilan Hatsor, about three Palestinian brothers whose family has been damaged and who have been pulled in different directions by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how they choose (or are forced to choose) to engage with it.
It’s not a very happy play.
When I was invited to do it, I was in tech for the other show I did this summer, RENT, and finishing up Physics, and starting Genetics and Shakespeare. And planning to move the week Masked would open. I wasn’t looking to get sucked into something I didn’t want and begin the fall semester already burned out. I gave it a lot of thought. I weighed my pros and cons. And, ultimately, I emailed Stephen (the director) this:
Read the play. Enjoyed the play? Well, no, probably not accurate to say I “enjoyed” it (it’s pretty depressing), but I did find it compelling and a story worth sharing.
I think about what that means a lot – “a story worth telling.” “Theatre with a purpose.” All those things we say, that I usually feel like mean something to me, but sometimes I feel like might just translate to “memory play and/or dead child and/or plight of the working man DARKNESSSSS art is painnn.” And I think about when I Googled Dutchman for class last year, and found this article, where Dulé Hill (The West Wing, Psych, and soon STICK FLY!!!!!) says:
“I’d spent seven years playing Charlie on The West Wing, but I never forgot about the stage. In fact, the entire West Wing experience was about hanging around actors who ingrained in my mind that theater is where you go to work on your craft. TV is where you get paid and take care of your family, but theater is where the real work is done (emphasis mine).”
This is not about whether I think any “real work” can be done in TV, or even what Dulé means, because I think what he’s saying is at least in part specific to his job as an actor. It’s about how all the time I find myself taking that clause out of context and trying to unpack it further. What’s the “real work,” for me? What are the things I want to say? What’s the play I need to write, and what are the things I can talk about every day, so I’m always working and teaching (and learning!)?
“Thank you for coming,” Prof. David Kastan told the half-full auditorium. “You did not have to be here this morning. I did. It means the world to me that you came.” I looked around at my fellow classmates; we were all tired and dazed. The night before, the acrid, unforgettable smell of melted steel, atomized concrete, and human remains had drifted seven miles north, from southern Manhattan up to Columbia University’s campus.
It was Sept. 13, 2001, and I was 21 years old. Two days earlier, I had walked into Kastan’s Shakespeare class before the attacks began and walked out after the second tower had already fallen. Columbia canceled classes for two days. I spent my time at the daily student newspaper, the Spectator, where I was managing editor. On Thursday morning, the first class back was Shakespeare.
“I will not make a political statement today,” Kastan continued. “But I will say this: This play we will discuss today is about revenge — and what demanding revenge can do to a person. I only hope that the people who will be making decisions on how to respond to Tuesday’s attacks read Titus Andronicus.”
When he finished, the class gave him a standing ovation.
Nine-and-a-half years later, I found myself standing outside a large house in Pakistan. It was 1:00 p.m. on May 2, 2011, and I was a correspondent for ABC News. Twelve hours earlier, the United States had finally taken its revenge. In the middle of the night, Navy SEALs shot the man who ordered the 9/11 attacks in the head and chest. After loading his body onto a helicopter, they flew it to Afghanistan and then to a ship at sea, where they dumped the prepared body in the ocean. I was the first American reporter to arrive at Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad. My team and I aired the first video from inside the compound and filed 11 stories in five frantic days.
It was only after I had returned to my home in Islamabad, about a 90-minute drive away, that Titus Andronicus and Kastan’s warning came to mind.
It’s not a very popular play, Titus Andronicus. I’ve never read or seen it. Until now, I don’t think I knew what it was about. (Revenge.) It hasn’t been consistently well-liked through history, because it’s super-bloody. If you read a couple synopses, like I did, it’ll be hard for you to keep track of who raped/killed/framed who. It’s about cycles of hatred and violence, and how we do horrible things to one another because we think an-eye-for-an-eye is the way to go (spoiler alert: womp womp). I think we all know where this applies; with 9/11, in Masked, all over the place. Scarily. Even Harry Potter, if you think about what needs to happen between the last chapter and the epilogue…
(Bonus link: “Post-Conflict Potter“)
One of my papers this summer was about Kenneth Branagh’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing. It praised how accessible he made it, to the point it could top a high-schooler’s lists of favorites – a “Top Ten” that included movies like Titanic and The Matrix. Now, personally, I find Much Ado easy to love in any form (it’s short for a Shakespeare, and full of shenanigans that totally lent themselves to middle school, when I first encountered it), but this article has actually made me curious about unfortunately-relevant Titus Andronicus, which I so was not before. Oh, Shakespeare, you are never over. Now, I don’t have time to read the play and report back this week, but maybe over Thanksgiving…