Othello by William Shakespeare, directed by Michael Kahn
Shakespeare Theater Company through October 30, 2005
Review by Grace Cavalieri
Shakespeare was at his prime when he wrote Othello- a play by a seasoned playwright—a writer who knew that some tragedy has no redemption, that it is wise --not cynical -- to realize that perfect things get crushed, that sometimes even “hope” is not left to live. Today more than ever before we see the politics of destruction, the hunger for power unabated, the wish to rule armies, no matter the battle. And so the timelessness of Othello where racism is not a small part of its story. This play was written historically when an influx of people of color (Africans, Arabs) was entering England; and, while tolerated by Queen Elizabeth, non-whites were scorned and feared. The Moors were exaggerated by the English who attributed to them superrhuman and subhuman qualities. From this the play evolves. Shakespeare took the plot from an early 16th century collection of stories by Italian author Cinthio Giraldi. It turns on four characters, crystallizing finally to the tragedy of three: the Moor Othello, (Avery Brooks,) Desdemona (Colleen Delaney,) and Iago (Patrick Page.) Most know that Desdemona’s love for Othello is unsullied and pure, that she is guiltless of sin and adultery; that Othello’s passion for her is total and that the deceitful Iago corrupts their beautiful union with treachery and lies.
But how is it done this time? Avery Brooks has a golden role: majesty, passion, rage, fear, jealousy. It’s all in the text. Brooks chooses to extract a stylized approach to the great Othello. Elegance provides a passage to pain. Perhaps this is more rhetorical than heartfelt, yet we believe finally that the Moor should be armored, even in his own destruction. Othello’s human vulnerability never really shows. The viewer is left wondering if this is not a strength, the eloquence of suffering, rather than its ugliness. Patrick Page’s “Iago” will be noted in the history of theater performances for his rendering. Page found nuances in a well worn role, new edges, glimmers of meanings, the natural cloak of “acting’ making Shakespeare more available, in all its complications, than ever before. This is a high moment in the presentation of Iago on any stage. The ”Desdemona” chosen by Kahn was a perfectly balanced pawn between the daggers of truth and power. Her delicate, yet full throated performance, satisfied what was needed, working between the style of extremes – The slithering Iago, the heroic Othello.
“Who the Gods would destroy, they would first make famous” (sic,) and we see Othello crumble by reason of one who wants a share of power, whatever the cost, and who will lose his own freedom because of it. We watch a progression (however preposterous at times) of plotmaking to a final scene marvelously enacted – Othello’s murder of a flawless woman, and his own self murder. Shakespeare over and over again says: This is the only life we have. Michael Kahn says it in his direction; the utilitarian set says it in its sparseness; and the Audience is left knowing that there is -oh yes- evil in this world, and always has been, but making beauty of it...that is the sacred commitment we honor.
For ticket information call 202-547-1122
Grace Cavalieri is a Playwright, a Poet, and Producer of “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress" on public radio.