Othello (Shakeapeare Theater Company)

Though an active and talented member of Venetian society who has started to assimilate, he is never fully accepted—and it makes him all the more susceptible to the machinations of Iago, the one person he feels that he can trust. 

…Iago’s hatred of Othello stems from his own jealousy.  He resents the fact that Othello promoted Cassio over him, believes that Othello slept with his wife and cringes at the idea that a foreigner—whom he considers inferior—has the success and recognition that he has been denied.  It is a personal vendetta, and he makes the audience complicit. 

-Katherine Peterlin (STC’s Young Professionals Consortium)

As my regular readers know, Othello is my favorite Shakespeare play.  The themes of this play are relevant today (as we heard in the video above).  I saw it back in 2011 at the Folger; you can read that review here.  I went to see this new adaptation, starring Pakistani-American actor Faran Tahir, at STC on SUN, FEB 28 (7:30PM); it was just 5 days after the play opened.  I had a seat in the 3rd row (rare for me); three 20s gals sitting behind me had free tickets (how lucky)!  Sitting beside me were a middle-aged couple who also enjoyed the show a lot; the husband made some comments that proved that his wife was the Shakespeare expert, but he enjoyed it, too.  As for the desis (South Asians) in the audience, I didn’t see more than a handful (including myself).         

Some of you may be thinking: Isn’t Othello supposed to be black (as in African-American)?  But remember that in The Bard’s time, “black” may have had a different meaning.  “Renaissance representations of the Moor were vague, varied, inconsistent, and contradictory,” as E. A. J. Honigmann, editor of The Arden Shakespeare, noted.  “The term Moor referred to darker-skinned people in general, used interchangeably with similarly ambiguous terms such as African, Somali, Ethiopian, Negro, Arab, Berber, and even Indian to designate a figure from Africa (or beyond). Various uses of the word black are insufficient evidence for any accurate racial classification; that could simply mean swarthy,” Honigmann concluded.

MoorishAmbassador_to_Elizabeth_I

Abd el-Ouahed ben Messaoud ben Mohammed Anoun, Moroccan ambassador to the court of Elizabeth I (some consider him as the model for Othello)

Original Line:  She gave me for my pains a world of… sighs.

Changed Line: She gave me for my pains a world of… kisses.

Above is one of the lines that was changed from the original (I noticed it right away); it’s more suited to the WWI setting of this play.  This is the kind of adaptation that grows on you, though I quickly noticed that the lighting was very well-done (from the 1st scene).  Iago (played by Jonno Roberts, a New Zealand native) is a very strong villain; he’s matter-of-fact, yet funny.  One of his tactics is to tightly embrace several of the individuals (Rodrigo, Othello, and Cassio) who he has ensnared in his web.  Since Roberts is tall, broad, and muscular (like a modern-day military man), this comes off as potentially scary.  I especially liked Iago and Othello’s scenes; the actors obviously have good chemistry and a great command of the text.  All the supporting actors did well, especially the two who played Desdemona and Emilia.

There were two moments in this play that I thought were particularly good.  One was Othello grabbing Iago, pulling him down, and choking him (when the villain first accused Desdemona of unfaithfulness).  The other scene was when Othello went into a fit of epilepsy, falling to the floor, and shaking for several seconds (everyone leaned forward in their seats).  I was sure that this play would get better w/ time; it has been extended through April 2.  Go check it out if you have a chance! 

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