Corrections or additions?
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
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,
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
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
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
Road, 609-397-7331. $15. continues through Saturday, July 27.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.