The actor looked nothing like O. J. Simpson.
“Orenthal,” a production involving the Renaissance Society, the Experimental Station, and Court Theatre, had begun. The description of “Orenthal” in the email sent by the Renaissance Society was promising: it was to be a one-act portrayal of O. J. Simpson’s rise and fall, which would be contrasted with the story of Shakespeare’s Othello. I wondered what the two really had to do with each other. True, Othello and O. J. were both black, with white wives. And their names both began with O. But the story of Othello is a bit more fleshed out than that of Orenthal James Simpson–Shakespeare accounts for the reason behind Othello’s crime. The murder of Nicole Simpson, O. J.’s wife, was never resolved. What would be the base of “Orenthal,” the play?
To emphasize the O. J.—Othello connection, badly Photoshopped posters of Othello with O. J.’s head decorated the brick walls behind the actor, a chair acting as the only prop. Our O. J., a bit younger and lighter-skinned than the original, began speaking. His voice had a nice rhythm, as he recalled how he was “everybody’s favorite guy,” and how “[he] loved Nicole.” But he was constantly interrupted by a voice from the speakers behind us, a voice insulting him, demeaning him. Whether the voice came from within O. J., or was meant to symbolize the sentiments of his critics was unclear. “Nigga, bullshit!” the voice would screech as O. J. tried to defend himself.
The voice kept screaming about how worthless O. J. was, and I felt sorry for the O. J. in front of me–such a barrage of insults would break anyone down. Is this really what it meant to be O. J.? Was “Orenthal” trying to tell the audience that this was the black male experience in America, the constant anxiety, nitpicking, like Prometheus and the vulture? Or was it trying to tell us about the emotional aftermath of a murder? It felt like more like the former, as “Orenthal” didn’t address the murder issue much. But it wasn’t clear.