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Othello ~ Shakespeare Theatre Company

Jordan Wright
March 1, 2016
Special to The Alexandria Times

Faran Tahir as Othello and Jonno Roberts as Iago in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman

Faran Tahir as Othello and Jonno Roberts as Iago in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman

Director Ron Daniels presents Othello on the cavernous stage of the Sidney Harman Hall against an industrial-looking backdrop giving heft to the drama that is about to unfold. Daniels has chosen a curious, and fascinating, interpretation in casting an actor as Othello, a Moor, who is not black. Played by Faran Tahir, an actor of Pakistani descent, Daniels gives his Othello a fresh look, broadly hinting that the “Moor of Venice” was a Muslim converted to Christianity. It dovetails neatly with the line, “Your son-in-law is far more fair than black,” delivered by the Duke of Venice (Ted van Griethuysen).

It’s a bit stunning at first – certainly an intriguing political perspective for our times. Yet after adjusting to that unusual twist, we have Shakespeare’s brilliantly dark tale – of love and war, blatant racism and the destructive power of jealousy, coupled with the duplicity of man.

Othello Press Photo captions OTHELLO_007Faran Tahir as Othello, Patrick Vaill as Cassio, Jonno Roberts as Iago, and Jackson Knight Pierce as Soldier in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman

Othello Press Photo captions OTHELLO_007Faran Tahir as Othello, Patrick Vaill as Cassio, Jonno Roberts as Iago, and Jackson Knight Pierce as Soldier in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman

Set Designer Riccardo Hernandez gives us an austere set – five massive factory fans spread out across the second level, churning and whirring in rhythm, and a collection of rusted oil drums pressed into service as chairs, tables and occasionally weapons. It’s that simple. Ditto for Costume Designer Emily Rebholz who dresses the men as modern day soldiers in World War II Army uniforms and the Venetian senators in Edwardian cutaways. The women, Desdemona wife of Othello (Ryman Sneed) and Emilia (Merritt Janson) her handmaiden, get simple dresses reminiscent of Isadora Duncan and her Grecian muses. All the better to cut to the action and drama.

Ryman Sneed as Desdemona and Faran Tahir as Othello in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Ryman Sneed as Desdemona and Faran Tahir as Othello in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Though there is a great deal of fuss and feathers in Act One in setting up the conflicts, trickery and ultimate betrayals, the drama really gets underway in Act Two, when Iago’s (Jonno Roberts) cruel machinations begin to come to fruition. As Othello’s aide-de-camp, Iago has already primed the pump by convincing the lovelorn scion Rodrigo to give up his fortune in jewels to buy Desdemona’s affections – a ruse to bankrupt the besotted fool and hoard the jewels for himself. Next he has duped Cassio that she will fall helplessly into his arms as soon as Othello turns his back on his adoring wife in a fit of jealous rage. And thirdly, and most horridly, he has ingratiated himself with Othello by convincing the General his innocent wife is a lowly cheat. All so he can have the chaste lady for himself. It’s an absolute wonder he can keep all his stories straight.

As the plot’s pendulum swings back and forth from Venice to Cyprus, Lighting Designer Christopher Akerlind suitably alters the mood, veering from soft spots for the ladies and fiery red hues for Othello’s increasing jealousy. Be prepared for the loud fusillade of retorts from the soldiers’ rifles as they celebrate Othello’s win against the Turks. Here Composer and Sound Designer Fitz Patton adds bawdy bar songs to the drunken celebrations. It’s the same point at which the tide begins to turn against Cassio who, snockered, delivers the line, “Reputation, reputation, reputation. Oh, I have lost my reputation. I have lost the immortal part of myself, and what remains is bestial.” Yet another weakness for Iago to capitalize on.

Patrick Vaill as Cassio and Natascia Diaz as Bianca in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman.

Patrick Vaill as Cassio and Natascia Diaz as Bianca in the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels. Photo by Scott Suchman.

By the time Cassio’s jealous lover Bianca (Natascia Diaz) appears to obfuscate matters, Othello has gone quite mad and we see him on his knees in Muslim prayer and vengeful rage, “She must die!”.

STC has assembled a mighty cast, diverse in performance levels, yet able to capture the pithy parts and animate them cohesively.

Highly recommended.

At the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Sidney Harman Hall through March 27th 2016 at 610 F St., NW Washington, DC 20004. For tickets and information call 202 547-1122 or visit www.ShakespeareTheatre.org.

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