Shakespeare's Othello has sometimes been described as a battle of wills between the noble Moor and his right-hand man Iago, but it's actually more like a stalking. Iago, a fully-formed psycho, is intent on destroying the blithely unsuspecting Othello, and this stirring production by the Great Lakes Theater Festival explores that conscienceless obsession with terrifying exactitude.
It's all played on Russell Metheny's stark set, a 20-foot-high open framework that doubles nicely as a cage for characters trapped by jealousy, devotion, and rage. Augmented powerfully by composer Michael Keck's intermittent score, the stage is afire with passion and danger from the get-go.
Of course, the classic tragedy centers on the festering evil of romantic jealousy. The "green-eyed monster" is a perfect motivator, since it feeds on the smallest seed doubt and only grows stronger with every denial. Once "honest" Iago murmurs to Othello seemingly bland observations about Othello's wife Desdemona and the truly honorable lieutenant Cassio, the sad events are set in stone.
But this is a stone that glistens and gleams under the energetic direction of Risa Brainin. Cladding her actors in modern dress gives the story a contemporary immediacy. And this effect is heightened by allowing Iago to come out of his traditional, often glowering shell.
This script is notably bereft of the clowns that show up in Will's other tragedies, but that is compensated in part by David Anthony Smith's vibrant, often amusing Iago. Looking like a recent graduate from the P90X workout program, Smith does chin-ups on a bar, push-ups on the floor, and bends his elbow with buddies like a soldier on short leave.
But Smith deftly turns Iago's barracks charm into a death-snarl as things progress, sending a shiver as we confront a man who is remorseless in his hate and devoid of concern about consequences. This is a dandy interpretation of an iconic role.
As Othello, David Alan Anderson is strong and stable. Though his loving vulnerability toward Desdemona is not completely believable early on, Anderson makes up for it when his jealously begins to fester. And his ultimate fate plays out with heart-stopping power.
Desdemona is a delicate role, since she has to be obsequious, yet strong enough to stand up to her father Brabantio after eloping with the big O. Sara M. Bruner handles this task well, although there are moments early on when she could do more to establish her devotion to hubby.
In the end, Great Lakes' Othello is less a tragic hero than a tragic victim ensnared by a manipulative psychopath. And that is what gives this production its sublime resonance.
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