“Othello” is the fourth longest of Shakespeare’s works. Director and artistic director of the Marin Shakespeare Company, Robert S. Currier, managed to abridge it to three hours, including a 15 minute intermission. If you’re not fmiliar with Othello, it’s best to read up on it before seeing a production, better yet take the time to read the play and any accompanying notes. It had been some time since I had seen the play or the opera (with Placido Domingo as Othello, his face darkened with make up, but not, thank heavens, flat-out “black face.” Still . . .) You can always read the synopsis in the program.
The play has not only been controversial-not only in that it has a black man married to a white woman- but has raised many questions over its 400+ year existence, such as: Why is Othello in Venice? Is he a Mohammedan or a Christian convert? And what is his motivation for fighting for Venice against the Turks? questions Currier includes in his program notes. None are answered nor have they ever been.
The principal players are Othello, a Moorish General, who is played by a masterful Dameion Brown, who has the voice and physique to match the character’s stature, as well as the acting chops to make his actions believable; his wife, the beautiful, ineffectual and clueless, Desdemona (Luisa Frasconi); Iago (Cassidy Brown), ensign to Othello; Cassio (Jeff Wiesen), Othello’s lieutenant; Antonio (Glenn Havlan), Duke of Venice; Brabantio (aptly portrayed by Steve Price), Desdemona’s father, who is confused and outraged by her choice of mate; Emilia (the memorable and wonderful Elena Wright), Cassio’s wife and Desdemona’s friend; and Rodrigo, played by Braedyn Youngberg with the delightfully surprising, but not detracting, movie actor Jack Black-like physicality. Rodrigo is Iago’s side-kick who is in love with Desdemona. An excellent supporting cast that features Regina Morones as the powerful, no-nonsense Bianca, billed simply as “a working woman” comes off as more than that, rounds out the production.
Cassidy Brown is a terrific Iago, one of the most complex and fascinating roles. He gets his character’s lack of conscience, portraying Iago almost comical; he is deceitful, setting up his friend Cassio against Othello by creating suspicion and jealousy (the “green-eyed monster”) between the Moor and Desdemona with the aid of her precious handkerchief, a gift from her husband. He also arranges a meeting between Desdemona and Cassio, when Othello chooses another over Cassio for an important post, based on a false rumor. She is to “smooth things over” for him with her husband. An unsuspecting Emilia plays along, but regrets having believed Iago when events reach a violent and tragic resolution at play’s end, founded on lies and betrayals.
Currier’s Marin Shakespeare Comany has created a wonderful, satisfying production. “Othello” runs through September 25, ending its summer/fall season. Call 415-499-4488 for tickets and information.