A Masterful Performance Breathes New Life into Othello

By Patrick Hurley

One could call it an exercise in theatrical scaling-down, as if the piece were literally and figuratively constricting itself and its characters as it moves along, tightening its grip until at last, nearly out of breath, it culminates in a final claustrophobic moment. Shakespeare’s Othello, playing now at A Noise Within, is yet another example of the bard’s brilliance for metaphor and symbolism and is one of his more accessible tragedies.

Opening on the vast shores of the Mediterranean where battles, romances and petty jealousies abound, we enter a large-scale world wherein we are introduced to our main players. The play slowly shifts from episodic to intimate, from grand exteriors to smaller and smaller interiors, from whispers of jealousy and hatred to violent acts of revenge, showcasing how jealousy and mistrust can poison a person’s entire life.

Othello (A sensational Wayne T. Carr), having just won a battle, sets the chain of tragic events in motion when immediately following a victory in battle he chooses Cassio (Brian Henderson) as lieutenant over Iago (Michael Manuel). Iago is so enraged by this, he believes Cassio to be entirely unworthy of the title and so far beneath his own worthiness that he hatches the scheme that will ultimately ruin both Othello and Cassio’s lives. Iago plots to make it seem as if Othello’s beloved wife Desdemona (Angela Gulner) is having an affair with Cassio. He will plant the seed of doubt and mistrust in Othello’s ear and then feed it with as many confirmations as he can manipulate. Little by little, opportunities arise for Iago to trick Othello into believing Desdemona is unfaithful, and the jealousy eventually drives Othello mad, and eventually he can take his jealousy no longer and he and Iago plot to murder both Cassio and Desdemona for their indiscretion.

Shakespeare, being one of the greatest dramatists and master of conflated conflict, makes the delicious decision to have the audience be Iago’s co-conspirator, he confesses, to us, every part of his plan as he goes along.  The audience, having more knowledge than any of the other characters about the impending tragedies that his disastrous plot will render, adds an element of irony that fuels the tension beautifully.  

Iago, as single-minded as he is, is more of a symbol than an actual character. He represents the dark nature of envy, and pride, and his destiny must be considered the ultimate price one must pay for such avarice- a lonely and silent life. Othello, on the other hand, as is true for all the other characters in the play, is so driven by his need to trust and believe, that his overwhelming desire for honesty is his hamartia. Much like the ancient Greek plays that Shakespeare often draws inspiration from, his characters are sometimes driven by the very thing that will cause their downfall. As Oedipus insisted, even at his own peril, for the truth of who killed his father, so too Othello insists on finding the truth of whether his wife is faithful. The irony of course for both tragic heroes is very different, Oedipus discovers the actual truth, Othello believes he’s discovered the truth, only to find that he had been pursuing a lie, and we watch as the truth gets whittle down to an unrecognizable size.

The play too shrinks down, little by little, from a multi-character drama, to an intimate story that’s really between these three characters. And this tightening of size foreshadows the inexorable stranglehold that jealousy has put on Othello because there is actually no room left to breathe and so the inevitable happens.

This production uses the space of the theater beautifully, and it moves seamlessly through the over two and a half hour running time. Director Jessica Kubzansky is able to maintain the tension as it slowly builds toward its tragic conclusion with a deft hand. And this production has, at the center, a stunning and mesmerizing performance from Wayne T. Carr as Othello. He breathes new life into one of Shakespeare’s most enraging protagonists. He invites empathy and understanding to a bewildering man, and we can track his uncertainty because he genuinely believes the love of his life has done the unthinkable to him. His love for Desdemona can be seen so vividly at the top, that by the final bedroom scene, the tension and struggle within him is visceral and real.

Othello By William Shakespeare
Directed by Jessica Kubzansky
at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107

Buy Online: http://www.anoisewithin.org Buy Via Phone: 626-356-3121
Purchase at Box Office: 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107
Regular Prices: Single Tickets from $25, Student Rush with ID an hour before performance $20.

Pay What You Can (PWYC): Thursday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m. – all tickets remaining are Pay What You Can, cash only, exact change appreciated, at the box office on day of performance after 2 p.m. Limit two per person. Suggested price of $10.

Author: Patrick Hurley

Graduated UCLA with his MFA in Playwriting. Is an educator and writer Constantly in search of meaning...

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