I was very excited to see my very first performance of Othello at Bard on the Beach this week. After all, Shakespeare’s classic story of the moody, manipulated Moor has all the ingredients we’ve come to expect – love, passion, revenge, murder, even witty repartee.
But I didn’t expect to be blown away. And I was. Othello is, quite simply, an amazing experience on every level.
Here’s the story – it’s 1864, close to the end of the American Civil War. Othello (Luc Roderique), is now a Union Army general who’s just eloped with the beautiful Southern belle Desdemona (Kayla Deorksen).
It’s intensified the ire of Iago (Kayvon Kelly), Othello’s ensign, who believes Othello insulted him when he promoted the young and untried Cassio (Jeff Gladstone) to be his lieutenant instead of him. Iago vows revenge against Othello and Cassio, using Desdemona as his means of revenge. He promises to help rich landowner Roderigo (Andrew Cownden) win the hand of Desdemona.
Othello is ordered to Charleston to fight off an attack by the Confederates, and takes Cassio with him. Desdemona is to join him later, escorted by Iago and his wife Emilia (Luisa Jojic). Iago privately urges Roderigo to follow them.
A violent storm thwarts the Confederates’ attack, so there’s cause for celebration instead of battle. Iago seizes the moment, gets Cassio drunk, and encourages Roderigo to provoke a fight with him. Othello strips Cassio of his rank as punishment for his behaviour.
Iago advises Cassio to ask Desdemona’s help to try and persuade Othello to reinstate him. Iago then leads Othello to where the demoted officer and Desdemona are quietly meeting. As they watch, Iago plants the first seed of suspicion in Othello’s mind about Desdemona’s and Cassio’s relationship. Desdemona later pleads Cassio’s case to Othello, unaware that her husband now believes she is unfaithful.
Iago continues to fuel Othello’s doubts. When Desdemona loses a beautiful handkerchief – a treasured gift from Othello — Iago arranges for Cassio to find it. Othello sees Cassio with the handkerchief and takes this as further proof of Desdemona’s betrayal. Consumed by jealousy and anger, he promotes Iago to lieutenant in place of Cassio.
An enraged Othello then confronts Desdemona and Iago’s plans for revenge spiral tragically out of control.
On paper,Othello is a pretty standard tragedy. But there’s so much more to this production, ably directed by Bob Frazer – and it begins with the Civil War setting. Stemming from an idea conceived by Luc Roderique and Kayvon Kelly a few years ago, it enables the transformation of Othello from an exotic and mysterious Moor into an ex-slave in a position of power who sadly is enslaved again by suspicion and doubt. What a brilliant concept! And as the tortured, uncertain leader, Luc Roderique captures all of Othello’s exuberance, jealousy and uncontrolled rage perfectly.
As Iago, Kayvon Kelly is nothing short of awesome. He’s elevated the traditional conniving villain into a very human bad guy. I actually told him at the informal Talkback Tuesday chat with the cast that he reminded me of the modern Jim Moriarty of the current Sherlock series – and he was delighted.
Kayla Deorksen’s Desdemona captures her initial happiness, then her utter confusion at her husband’s rage against her, and finally, her fear and despair. And I loved Luisa Jojic’s loyal and devoted Emilia, who’s realization of the extent of Iago’s treachery is a pivotal moment as the play winds down to its awful conclusion.
If you haven’t made plans to see Othello this summer – do it now. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. Othello runs now through September 17th at the Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre. As far as I’m concerned, it deserves to fill a theatre three times its size!