King John

Date: 2015
Posted by: Hassan Jamal
Cast: B.T. Taylor (King John), Frank Ugochukwu (Messinger [sic]), Dr Lou (Death)
Credits: Homewood & Frankstown TV. Dr D (Camera Upload), Director/Camera (Hassan [Jamal])
Duration: 3.23

Here’s another example from the excellent L.A. Subway Shakespeare Project, the creation of post and playwright Hassan Jamal. The project is a series of black-and-white videos featuring African-American performers shot at metro stops around the Los Angeles. The virtue in the series in how exemplifies the best of ‘street Shakespeare’ – taking the poet’s words and giving them a raw immediacy through placing them in a modern street setting, with passers-by and traffic noises an essential part of the ambience. There’s a compulsion about the renditions, by which the street encourages the verse.

There scene here was filmed close by Leimert Park Crenshaw Metro Station. It’s a little-known passage from King John, specifically the king’s exchange with a messenger (bringing him bad news from France), from Act 4 Scene 2, beginning “They burn in indignation. I repent / There is no sure foundation set on blood” (though there is some free interpretation of the text). They meet on a street corner, while wide-eyed man gyrates in a way that says that either he is made or he knows that those around him are the truly mad (the credits reveal him to be Death). The words and finely spoken (especially by B.T. Taylor) and one feels the power of the exchange even if the precise reasons for it are unfamiliar. The camerawork is shaky, but that only adds to the sense of poetry torn from tradition on to a truer stage.

Other videos in the series are The Merchant of Venice, Othello, another Othello, The Merry Wives of Windsor, The Winter’s Tale, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, The Two Gentlemen of Verona and The Passionate Pilgrim.

Links: YouTube page