Kraken Theatre Production: Othello: A Civil War Tale
Shakespeare has always been a challenge for artists, but giving his plays a modern twist proves to be unachievable task for many. Theatre Kraken is not the first that failed to rise to the occasion. The reason for that is simple: while Shakespeare is timeless in his ideas, he is very much a man of his own time when it comes to the events he describes. That is to say, he recognizes that all people are led by the same instincts in their actions, which makes him relevant to any place or time. On the other hand, events and relationships that take place in his plays might have been natural in 16th century, while in our time they may look ridiculous.
Theatre Kraken’s production of “Othello” is announced as “A Civil War Tale,” which arouses both curiosity and expectation. The very first scene is promising – a powerful anti-slavery melody precedes the coming of the young Othello in a Union Army uniform. Unfortunately, the promise ends where it begins. As the play goes on, with all due respect to “licentia poetica,” the audience can conclude only that slaves in America fought for their freedom in Venice, alongside Venetian dukes and their servants. Uniforms and a couple of songs can’t count as adaptation.
As for Othello, in this version he is stripped nearly of everything that makes him great. Othello is a successful officer, well respected by his comrades in arms, and is loved by a beautiful and obedient woman. His speech is simple and straightforward, but he is brave, honest and intelligent. His main problem is not pure jealousy. The reason for his hot temperament is due mostly to the fact that he is a man of two fatherlands and only partly because of his nature. His loyalties are divided between his country of origin and Venice, the country that gives him everything he has. That is why the significance of the handkerchief his wife Desdemona loses is much greater than a love betrayed. For him, it is a symbol of his lost country so, naturally, his subconsciousness makes him react violently. Chris Lucas does not bring any of these dilemmas to the character. His Othello is a simple, credulous man, jealous of his possession. Although there are some well acted scenes, he does not connect with his character and fails to make him either a classic or contemporary Othello with an impact.
Only Steph Goodwin’s Bianka and Nicholas Dave Amott’s Cassio look natural on the stage, and the only stand-out is Michael Swatton as Iago. Adding a subtle humorous note to his acting, Swatton manages to show Iago’s deplorable character, but still somehow he makes him soft, charming and almost lovable.
It takes much more than adequate costumes and music to meaningfully change the time and purpose of a great play, especially if the intention is to turn a play that explores identities into a political one. Don Fex’s idea is exciting and the parallel with the Civil War is very interesting. Let’s hope that he will execute it one day in a more thoughtful manner.
Nicholas Dave Amott’ Cassio
Meghan de Chastelain Desdemona
Chris Lucas Othello
Ian McMullen Roderigo
Michael Swatton Iago
William Beddoe Barbantio/Gratiano
Lawrence Evanchick Lodovico
Steph Goodwin Bianca
Robin Hodge Emilia
Allan Zander The Duke