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A Day with Brooklyn Technical High School Students

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[After the presentation of Othello, I sat down in the auditorium with Gabriel Morel, who played Iago.]

Answering a question from the audience after the play, you said, “It’s not just memorizing the words it’s knowing the words.”

GABRIEL: Right.

Expound on that.

GABRIEL: Well, Shakespeare is very difficult language, so if you just say the words it sounds like you’re reciting a poem. It doesn’t sound like you’re talking. It doesn’t sound like you’re saying the words in character. So, I think knowing what the words mean, knowing when they question, when they pause, when they raise their voices, or something like that, that is what matters.

How much experience with Shakespeare have you had?

GABRIEL: As much as any high school student. [Laughs]

Which is what these days?

GABRIEL: Which is probably one book a year. I’ve read Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Othello, and Macbeth.

What is your take on Shakespeare?

GABRIEL: I like the way he puts things, but the plots, the way he executes them, the endings, the surprise twists are really not that clever, like the way characters respond to things and how gullible some of the characters are.

So you think Othella, in this case, was awfully gullible?

GABRIEL: Yes, awfully gullible. It was like a sitcom on TV where the person is so gullible that they don’t even take the time to ask what’s going on and instead act irrationally. Like killing your wife for cheating on you, that’s pretty extreme.

Do you like the language?

GABRIEL: The language is very difficult to understand, but after you understand it, it’s incredible. It’s very well put.

Did you find it easier acting it than just reading it? Did it come alive more?

GABRIEL: Yes. Because, when you read it, you have to come up with what’s actually going on—like gestures and what action is going on—in your head. But when you’re doing it, you get to make it up and actually do them. So, I understand if I’m angry or if I’m happy, because I’m the one that’s deciding that.

You mentioned the gullibility of Othello, but what about Iago? You know how Iago really plays mental games.

GABRIEL: He does.

This passive aggressive crap.

GABRIEL: Absolutely. He’s somewhat immature in the way he evaluates situations, like, the fact that Othello gave the position to Lt. Cassio instead of himself. Ms. Tuckman made us create our own backgrounds for our characters. So, I’m thinking someone that would do something so evil and manipulative must have come from a bad background, a broken father—an abusive father—neglect, and all of that to be so emotionally unstable.

Do you know any Iagos?

GABRIEL: Oh, no, I don’t know any Iagos, and it was hard to play Iago because of that. I feel like playing a bad person, a legitimately bad person, is hard because of the motive. I have to find my own motive instead of Iago’s motive to be bad. Like, I have to actually hate [Othella] for those moments on the stage.

One of the people I interviewed was Tiffany, and she said the two of you worked together on what your relationship was like. Let me hear your version, what your relationship with your wife is like.

GABRIEL: Well, the relationship is pretty clear. I don’t think Iago loves her. I think Iago has his wife to have a wife. We tried to show the audience that by, in the background, when we’re alone and we’re not talking, the other characters are talking, we play the lovey-dovey couple. And then in the scenes where I am extremely angry at her, and a good example is when she had the handkerchief, I’m grateful to her for having the handkerchief, and what she wants is my attention, but I still don’t give it to her. We love each other, but we hate each other sometimes.

I think it’s interesting when you say he has a wife to have a wife. You’ve not read any of the comedies. Do you want to?

GABRIEL: Um, I don’t know how Shakespeare does his jokes. If the humor is as good as the opposite, the tragedy, then I don’t have high expectations for the comedy. Humor is timeless, but jokes are definitely different. What we think is funny is definitely different from when Shakespeare was alive.

Was this your first acting experience?

GABRIEL: No.

What have you done before?

GABRIEL: The biggest play I’ve done on stage was The Crucible. I played the judge, who was also a very aggressive role. I had to be very uptight.

Do you want to do acting?

GABRIEL: I like acting, it’s fun. But I don’t see it being a career. I can see it being a side thing. I don’t know how that would happen. Acting is useful in life.

Do you think Shakespeare is useful in life in any way?

GABRIEL: I think Shakespeare teaches a lot of lessons, a lot of different notions, things that wouldn’t happen in real life but you would want to know how things occur.

Did you experience any of that in this?

GABRIEL: Yeah. I mean, Othello is, out of all the plays, probably most modern, I believe, because it’s less concentrated on what’s actually going on and more concentrated on the conflict of Iago and Othello and Desdemona. It could be easily translated into modern times. It would still make sense if you put it in any year.

I found it funny that in the play, during the time of Shakespeare, it wasn’t the same notion of racism that we have today, that we had before. It was more that he was Arabian than that he was black. I thought that was interesting. It was more that he was a foreigner than it was his color.

I’ve seen Ben Kingsly play him, and he played it, while he is a man of color, very much Middle Eastern, played him in a turban. But Iago calls him a black ram.

GABRIEL: He does.

So there is a racial tint to it.  You guys translated it to a gay relationship, and you’ve read the play. Do you think Iago was racist and in this case do you think Iago was homophobic in any way?  Or do you think it had nothing to do with his motive?

GABRIEL: In my opinion it had nothing to do with racism. I think the racism was just adding on, like fuel to the fire, but it wasn’t what sparked it. I think the fact that Iago is emotionally unstable, the fact that when he wants something and doesn’t get it, like the position of lieutenant, I think he really gets creepy.

[Gabriel sat next to me for the next play, As You Like It. As the cast was taking its bows, Gabriel turned to me and said, “Having seen a comedy, I retract my last statement. Shakespeare is really funny.”]

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