It occurs to me that I haven’t addressed the topic of how this show got it’s name, Sweet Willow.
Well the Willow part could be seen as obvious, but the Sweet? Where did that come from?
Back in the 90’s my wife Mary was working for a Marketing/PR/Branding firm called Parker LePla. One of the things that the firm specialized in was naming.
They very generously offered to name the show for us gratis. I believe Joe LePla himself came up with Sweet Willow. At first the title took a little getting used to, after all there didn’t seem to be much that was sweet about the show. I wasn’t sure if I liked it and my partner Paul wasn’t in any doubt about not liking it. We had a few back-and-forth discussions on the matter and he, maybe just for the sake of keeping the peace (I don’t know, Paul if you read this here’s your chance to chime in) finally stopped objecting to it.
It took me a few years to realize what a great name it is. At first I said yes to the name Sweet Willow chiefly because my wife kept telling me how perfect it was. I wasn’t entirely convinced but felt I could use it as a working title until something better arose. I was quite willing to give it a chance though…,and…,nothing I liked better ever came along. Now that I’ve grown into it, I feel the poignancy between the juxtaposition of Sweet (as in naive, open and generous) with the implied sadness of Willow is exactly correct.
Like duh, why didn’t I get that immediately? Sorry to have doubted.
Now, still on the subject of names, a friend of mine reminded me that the evil swan in Swan Lake is named Odile. Remembering this produced a delightful train of thought that resulted in my musing on the following parallels. In Swan Lake prince Siegfried, like Othello, struggles with the conflicting light and dark sides of his nature (his attraction to the white and black swans). In both shows they are duped into paths of action that result in the death of the women they love. Seen in this context, Odelle’s very name can be viewed as an omen of what’s to come.
I find bouncing ideas around like these a lot of speculative fun. If anyone has something to offer re: this please jump in.
I just can’t get past the fact that it is a tale of revenge. The Revenger’s Tragedy comes to mind. Or Mack the Knife. I think the title “Sweet Willow” begs the ending, which was always a problem for us. If there is some sort of redemption at the end, some sort of preservation of that willow… it bends but doesn’t break, then Sweet Willow can work.
Maybe the show should be called Brokeback Willow 🙂
Wow, the Revenger’s Tragedy! Now there is a tale of vendettas that puts even Rigoletto to shame. I’m not sure it’s a good analogy though since the entire show is predicated on revenge. I’ve never seen a production but I can only imagine how difficult it could be to keep track of who was plotting against who at any given moment.
Yes, the ever elusive ending for Sweet Willow. Maybe one way to look at it is from this perspective. You have Loretta (Emelia) sing the Willow Song, not Mona/Desdemona. She is still standing at the end reprising the Willow Song in a more poignant arrangement than when it first appears in Act 1. That probably doesn’t qualify as redemption but it is reflection. So in that context Loretta becomes the Chorus commenting on the drama.
What do you think?
Well, yes, I think I wasn’t quite sure about the name at first. And even to this day, I’m not sure, though it is very poetic and certainly speaks to one aspect of the play’s essence. I think I was first more interested in a name that spoke to the the madness and/or darkness in the play. I remember us debating a title incorporating “Jimmy Shine” or something. I love Jimmy Shine’s name because he is evil incarnate and yet with the word “shine” in his last name. I also know that the moon plays a role in our show, thus moon shine and Jimmy shine… and somewhere in there was a title for me. That being said, I did eventually give in. I think titles are important, but I felt we still had a way to go to get the play fleshed out to a stage that we could feel proud of. My problem with Desdemona in Otello is that I feel her part is too underwritten. She’s really the objectified desire that helps illustrate the failings of man, like many women are in so many stories. And in our story we did make an effort to give her more dimensions, which I think we did.
Thanks for the response. I really appreciate your opinion and insight. Yes, I agree that Jimmy Shine was and is a great name. It also makes a lot of sense to look to the Iago/Jimmy character for a title since most of the action in both Othello and Sweet Willow is generated by his deceits and manipulations. However I think I have finally landed comfortably in the camp that wants to focus on the resulting tragedy of the amazing naivete’ of both Odelle and Mona. What made them think that their relationship was going to be a success in the racist climate of the period and in the nature of Hank Desmond’s character? In their love for each other (Sweet) they completely misjudged what was soon to be the reality that Jimmy would exploit resulting in the jealousy/isolation/alienation (Willow) that finally ends with murder.
I don’t think that there is a right or wrong here. The direction for a title could work either way, I just find myself more drawn to one of the options.
As for Desdemona you really put a lot of effort into making the role a bit more central and less ‘underwritten’. It’s also a nice point you make about the objectified desires of man. That’s a theme that runs through so many dramas (Swan Lake here again too) and unfortunately through real life.
I look forward to more discussions with you.