Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Othello   Photo Maria Vartanova

 

 

I arrived two or three minutes late to the Gladstone due to the parking issues and bad time management after my day of drudgery, so I was looking forward to an evening of interesting theatre. I slid into the back seats of the theatre while Iago was professing his hatred of the Moor to the audience. He is dressed as a Union Army soldier in the American Civil War.

There are usually two schools of thought on Shakespeare being set in new surroundings to bring forward context that resonates with modern audiences. Some arrive excited by the potential and others arrive with trepidation at what their beloved bard will be subjected to. There is a high risk reward aspect and a company has to attack the material bravely with gusto. Theatre Kraken chose to set Othello during the American Civil War and they drove the tale home with confidence.

 

The set is comprised of simple blood red banners spaced evenly apart that hang upstage from the ceiling to the floor. It gives a militaristic feel and provides hiding spots for Othello to surreptitiously eavesdrop on his suspicions. On either side of the stage are elevated areas with steps where the actors sit and plot their plans or go about their daily rituals.

 

Regardless of the setting it is the superlative language of Shakespeare that drives the action and director Don Fex allows his cast to wrench out the heart and soul of the words with the nuance and passion that it deserves. There are moments of muted barely audible but clear words that have you captured in their intensity that nicely contrast the intense loud bravado of military bluster and conquest. If you are true to the language and comprehend the words the meter will be there and the poetry will come through with honesty.

 

Michael Swatton plays Iago with a disarming charm, hoodwinking his prey into trusting him. He drops subtle innuendo and allows himself to be interrogated against his will to implicate. This is scripted by Shakespeare, but it is Swatton’s deft playing that prompts the audience to laugh at every reference to his honesty.

 

Chris Lucas’ Othello has a confident swagger and a confident southern drawl. He runs a gamut of emotional scope that is staggering. At one point he is confident and secure, then doubtful, angry and gobsmacked by despair. The realization that Desdemona was true and he has removed her from his life in that shattering agonizing scream of “Desdemona is dead!” comes from a place deep in his gut that wrenches his and our collective hearts.

 

Desdemona as played by Meghan de Chastelain is sweet and devoted enveloped by love. She bathes in it which makes her bewilderment and hurt completely effective when she subsequently suffers abuse… and as many abused do, she justifies and excuses her abuser shouldering and assigning herself some of the guilt.

 

Robin Hodge as Emelia is the epitome of duty, to Othello, Iago and Desdemona. Her strong performance is most illuminated in her passionate plea for justice to Desdemona near the end of the play. Nicholas Dave Amott as Cassio is similarly dedicated to duty and is very effective as the disgraced soldier pleading for redemption. Steph Goodwin also deserves mention as a stuttering messenger,as Montano but particularly in her compelling portrayal as Bianca a working girl passionately in love with Cassio.

 

Some might  find setting the play during the civil war in the ranks of the Union army incongruous to the references in the play. I do not. If you are true to the bard’s language and the intent of his storytelling you will not fail. The costuming and decoration can serve as a reinforcement of where the play is set or a cross reference to where we might be going.

 

If we do not observe where we came from or the dangers of where we are headed we are doomed to repeat our errors. We must question what we are told, examine our bigotry, our entitlement and our misogyny  whether we are in the 17th,  19th or 21st    century. If we don’t, as Othello eloquently illustrates, it will end tragically.

 

Theatre Kraken’s  play is a triumph of how great storytelling works.  Believe in the words and express them with truth. It’s simple but not always easy. We see a lot of big budget Shakespeare in Ontario, but if you perform with conviction and heart you can move an audience on a shoestring budget. The play is the thing after all.

 

 

Cast

Othello – Chris Lucas

Iago – Michael Swatton

Desdemona – Meghan de Chastelain

Cassio – Nicholas Dave Amott

Rodorigo – Ian McMullen

Emilia – Robin Hodge

Brabantio/Gratiano – William Beddoe

Duke – Allan Zander

Bianca/Montano/Messenger – Steph Goodwin

Lodovico – Lawrence Evenchick

 

Production Team

Director – Don Fex

Stage Manager – Christine Mathieu

Assistant Stage Manager – Annie Martin

Production Manager – Christine Hecker

Audition Assistants – Samantha Clarke, Rachel Rumstein

Costume Designer – Trish Murray

Fight Choreographer – Aaron Lajeunesse

Graphic Designer – Emm Legault

Hair Designer – Jacqueline Borutski

Lighting Designer – John Solman

Music Director – Chris Lucas

Props Lead – Brenda Solman

Scenic Artist – Jess Preece

Set Designer – Don Fex

Sound Designer – Don Fex