by Elaine Marrazano –
Actor, playwright and Tarrytown native Keith Hamilton Cobb brought his award-winning new play about Shakespeare and race in America to the off-Broadway stage this summer after seven years of development. The Hudson Independent caught up with Cobb for a chat about the play and growing up in Tarrytown.
American Moor tells the story of a mature, experienced African-American actor auditioning for the role of Othello while a young, white director presumes to dictate how this black leading man should behave. The New York Times said the play is “about performing Othello but also, in a way, about being Othello: a black man trying to find a path to excellence in a society anxious to keep him in his place.”
“The stage audition is a metaphor for our American culture ruled by money and power that is predominately white,” said Cobb. “A great deal of it is reflective of my own personal experience, but I think the vast majority of African-American actors have had this experience in an industry that has been dominated by a structure of whiteness for 400 years,” said Cobb.
Born at Phelps Hospital in 1962 to Mary Lane Cobb, a physician, and James Cobb, a mechanical engineer, Cobb is a renowned Shakespeare performer who may be best known to TV audiences for his roles as Noah Keefer on All My Children and Damon Porter on The Young and the Restless. He also played galactic mercenary Tyr Anasazi in the science-fiction series Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda and was on People Magazine’s list of the “50 most beautiful people” in the mid-1990s.
Cobb is back in his hometown after stints in Los Angeles and Canada.
A self-described quiet child who acted in only one school play – Our Town – it wasn’t until college that he thought acting “made sense.” He graduated from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 1987 with a BFA in acting.
“In high school, I was trying to figure out who I was and how I was perceived,” he said. “I was born in the heat of the civil rights movement, and these rivertowns were having their own struggle coming into the contemporary age in terms of social and race relations.”
Cobb recognized early that Route 9 in Tarrytown represented a physical and metaphorical racial divide.
“When a new black family would come to town, the realtors always showed them houses on the west side of Broadway, while we lived on the east side where our neighbors were Irish, Italian, and Jewish.”
Cobb’s parents, being young professionals and a part of black society that was new and growing at the time, were some of the first black families to live above Route 9 according to Cobb.
“I grew up being more aware of my white contemporaries. In high school, that created a schism. We had to travel down the hill to the other side to be among the community of African Americans.”
Cobb’s parents still live in Tarrytown, but he doesn’t feel particularly at home here.
“I didn’t picture myself living back here,” he said. “I thought I would be in Manhattan, but it’s cheaper for me to live here and commute.”
American Moor closed in October. Cobb believes its future lies in academia where he hopes to do residencies and see the play used as a teaching tool.