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This article by Joan Crespi was prepared for the July 17, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Drama Review: `Othello’

<B>Awesome stories. Love. Defiance of father. An

interracial marriage. Passed over for promotion. Deceit. Trickery.

Sexual jealousy. The murder of an innocent. Passion. Tragic remorse.

More deaths. A contemporary movie or TV drama? These are ingredients

of a 400-year old play, Shakespeare’s "Othello," one of the

Bard’s four great tragedies and the only one that deals with sexual

jealousy.

Now playing weekends through July 27, the Westwind Repertory Company

is presenting "Othello" at the Hun School’s John Andrew Saks

Theater, Route 206 and Edgerstoune Road (follow the road around to

the school, turn left).

M.A. Young plays the noble, valiant warrior Othello, the Moor, Nicholas

Andrefsky his ensign, the devious, evil Iago, Tara Langella the gentle,

undeservedly maligned Desdemona. All are fine, believable. B.J. Welsh

also does an excellent job as Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid. Julia

Ohm directs, keeping the play in 16th-century costume. "I cut

nothing," Ohm says, "but I wove the scenes together so it

would move without blackouts and be seamless."

And move it does. Some of the speeches are spoken too rapidly, achieving

an everyday-speech effect that muddles the stirring lines. Yet here’s

a chance to see this classic tragedy of the Shakespeare canon performed

with energy (including much rolling on the multi-tiered floor), verve,

and passion.

Shakespeare, as he often did, took an earlier story from Giraldi Cinthio’s,

"Hecatommithi," and made it his own, altering incidents, deepening

characterizations, and adding characters and episodes.

Scholars debate the motives of Iago, the unlikely marriage of Desdemona

to the black Othello, the slight cause of the handkerchief to convince

Othello of her faithlessness. Desdemona’s marriage? Consider her awe

and love of the noble exploits of Othello, frequently her father’s

guest. The handkerchief? Consider Iago’s surrounding schemes, outright

lies (as when Iago tells Othello of Cassio’s dream, which Iago invented),

unlikely coincidences, and the hypocrisies of a supposed honest man.

I had not read the play since college, decades ago: now I was surprised

how tight it was. It is truly a work of genius even before its memorable

lines. Shakespeare uses every incident to propel or underscore his

plot.

Iago is a classic example of a protagonist, using every

incident to his purpose, initially, to get back at Othello for preferring

Cassio over himself for promotion. (And maybe Cassio has slept with

his wife, too, he suggests.) Iago’s deceiving Othello is the famous

core of the play. But Iago also deceives Roderigo (who hankers after

Desdemona and thinks Othello is helping him — for money), deceives

Cassio, (an honorable lieutenant under Othello’s command who thinks

Iago is helping him win back the post he lost). Iago also deceives

his own wife, Emilia.

Iago contrives upon every existing incident; when there is none, he

engineers one. He uses the festivities to get Cassio drunk, then has

Roderigo provoke him to a brawl. When Emilia picks up Desdemona’s

dropped handkerchief, he snatches it for his scheme. Reputedly "honest,"

Iago is a wily, ensnaring spider, at first merely malicious, then

insinuating, suggesting, denying, scheming. Like a fencer, thrusting,

retreating, he inserts his poison into Othello.

The play opens in Venice where Desdemona has deceived her father and

married the warrior Moor, Othello, who is suddenly called to Cyprus

for war against the Turks. Desdemona follows him there, escorted by

Iago and Emilia. Acts II through V are set in Cyprus.

After a quick victory, Othello is roused at night by the brawling

festivities. He dismisses the drunken Cassio on Iago’s report, which

he seems to give reluctantly. Iago now asks his wife to plead Cassio’s

case to her mistress, Desdemona.

While Desdemona agrees to plead Cassio’s cause to her husband, Iago

plants the suspicion in Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful with

Cassio. Othello resists, but is disturbed; from here on, every small

occurrence stokes his suspicion. As Iago says, "Trifles light

as air/ Are to the jealous confirmations strong."

Iago continues to work his poison on Othello. As the tension builds,

Desdemona and Emilia have a tender and well-paced bedtime scene in

which Desdemona shows herself all the more the innocent. Iago continues

his plotting that includes his own murder of Roderigo.

Meanwhile unwary Desdemona, always onstage, prays. Othello’s jealously

builds to a fever pitch, and he smothers the innocent Desdemona. The

play unravels quickly. Iago’s villainy is exposed. More corpses litter

the stage.

My small reservations are personal, having to do with physical types.

I had imagined Roderigo to be a younger, trimmer man (since he desires

Desdemona), Iago (however well-played by Andrefsky) as small, cunning,

wily, not the tallest man onstage. More crucially, the role of Othello

is not performed in black face. But as suspicion, jealous passion

begin to seize Othello and he breathes heavily and falls into a fit,

Young’s acting is so superb, his passion so mesmerizing, that at the

end of the play it does not matter what color his skin is. Jealousy,

destroying passion, realization, futile remorse: they’re universal.

— Joan Crespi

Othello, Westwind Repertory, Hun School, Edgerstoune

Road, 609-397-7331. $15. continues through Saturday, July 27.


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