Dion Johnstone as Ira Aldridge, CST
Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented an excellent production of Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. The story of the first African American to play Othello on the London state in 1833, the story explores racism. As we know, abolition was a hot issue in the mid-1800s. In England there were protests against the slave trade.
When Ian Keen, who starred as Othello, fell ill the manager of the Covent Garden Theater chose Ira Aldridge, a black actor from America to play Othello. Some in the cast were excited and supportive, but Ian’s son and another actor were strongly opposed.
Aldridge was a fine, thoughtful actor, whose goal was to work in London. He takes his art seriously and gives a passionate performance the first night. However, the critics were shocked to see an actor of African heritage on stage and their reviews were venomous. The manager, Pierre LaPorte is a good friend of Aldridge and he counsels the actor to tone down his performance. Yet we can see that Aldridge can’t rein in his perfectionism. His desire to bring Othello to life as he reads the play leads to disaster. A consummate professional, Aldridge pushes the edges of his performance.
The performances were all pitch perfect and the play was compelling as it showed a chapter of theater history, I wasn’t aware of. The play has been produced in London and New York. If it comes to your hometown, I highly recommend you check it out.
I really enjoyed Henry Fonda in director John Ford’s Young Mr. Lincoln. The film is fictionalized but based on an actual murder trial Abraham Lincoln worked on. Honest Abe leaves Indiana for Springfield, Illinois. Once there he does a poor country family a good turn and they pay him by giving him a barrel full of law books, which prompts him to learn law.
Later one summer he meets the lovely, Mary Todd, but he’s shy and awkward. At a summer festival two brothers from the country get into a fight with a town jerk and the jerk winds up dead. The locals are ready to lynch the outsiders but Abe steps in and turns them around with his wit.
It looks like the brothers have no chance for justice, but Abe takes the case.
Fonda does look like a young Abe. The cadence of his voice sounds small town. The film was enjoyable and would make good family viewing.
Tonight my local library offered a lecture on the background of Downton Abbey, the popular period piece from across the pond. The speaker was Barbara Geiger, a landscape historian. I didn’t know there was such a job. She teaches for ITT and specializes in late 19th and early 20th century history.
I’ll share the detailed explanation of British property law for later. Now I’ll briefly introduce three women who, like Cora on Downton Abbey, were American brides imported to infuse cash into the coffers of British aristocracy. These women had dramatic lives and I can see adding their biographies to my reading list.
Consuelo Vanderbilt (of “the” Vandrbilt’s) must have had envied royalty or she wouldn’t dress like this. Obviously, she couldn’t marry a royal so the aristocracy would have to do. Her parents schemed to find a duke or lord for their daughter. Despite her protests, Consuela’s domineering mother manipulated her into marrying Charles Spencer-Churchill, 9th Duke of Marlborough. After producing “an heir and a spare,” Consuela and “Sunny” (Spencer-Churchill’s nickname) lived rather separate lives and eventually annulled their marriage. Later Consuela married a French aviator who worked with the Wright Brothers at one point. A biography on Consuelo is Glitter and Gold.
Born in New York, Jeanette (“Jennie”) Jerome married Lord Randolph Churchill. They were engaged within three days of meeting. Lord Randolph was known to be rather unruly and wild, quite a philanderer, drinker and gambler, hence the need to marry for money.
Rumors of the day suggest Jeanette subscribed to a “what’s good for the gander is good for the goose” and she had many affairs.
Her son was Winston Churchill and though he was primarily raised by nannies, he did have a close relationship with his mother. One controversy that’s alive and well in the Talk section of Wikipedia is whether Winston Churchill was born premature or whether he was conceived before his parents married. While the couple got engaged quickly, there was a long hold up as the families disagreed about the dowry. Thus the pair may have been impatient. That’s my guess.
I just put her biography, American Jennie: The Remarkable Life of Lady Randolph Churchill on hold at the library.
Also fond of tieras, Lady Almina
Almina Victoria Maria Alexandra Wombwell married the heir to Highclere Castle, Henry George Herbert, 6th Earl of Carnarvon. (Highclere is the castle where they film Downton Abbey.) She has a rather mysterious background as her mother was married to Captain Wombwell, but many believe her father was Alfred de Rothschild since he sent her to school and left her a fortune. Her biography is Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle.
Image via Wikipedia
From the Writers’ Almanac:
Today is the birthday of comedian and talk show host Bill Maher (1956). He was born William Maher Jr. in New York City, and he grew up in River Vale, New Jersey. His father was a news editor for NBC, so the family dinner table conversation usually revolved around the big issues of the day, and young Maher was encouraged to contribute his own thoughts and feelings. He wanted to be a comedian ever since he was a kid, but he didn’t tell his parents about his career aspirations until after he graduated from Cornell with a degree in English and history in 1978.
His career progressed along the usual trajectory: first comedy clubs, then small parts in small movies and TV shows, and eventually stand-up gigs on The Tonight Show. His big break finally came in 1993, when a fledgling cable network called Comedy Central approached him. They were struggling, and they asked him if he would be interested in hosting a show. That show was Politically Incorrect, and it brought together people from across the political spectrum to discuss current events, leavened with Maher’s own opinionated quips. It ran for nine years. He’s hosted a similar program, Real Time with Bill Maher, on HBO since 2003.
Bill Maher on American exceptionalism: “Always waving the big foam number one finger; we’re not number one in most things. We’re number one in military. We’re number one in money. We’re number one in fat toddlers, meth labs, and people we send to prison. We’re not number one in literacy, money spent on education. We’re not even number one in social mobility. Social mobility means basically the American dream, the ability of one generation to do better than the next. We’re tenth. That’s like Sweden coming in tenth in Swedish meatballs.”
I’ll note that Politically Incorrect eventually aired on ABC and was canceled because they didn’t like Maher’s criticism of the government after 9/11.