William Shakespeare’s Othello, directed by Jason Rip, brings a classic tale of deception, lust and jealousy to the stage at the ARTS Project. This adaptation brings an old plight into modern day context by marrying major themes with war-torn Afghanistan.
Othello tells the story of the Moor of Venice and his recent marriage to the Venetian Desdemona. Othello (Demis Odanga), having recently risen in his military ranking, earns the ire of fellow soldier Iago (Danika Barker) when he promotes the less experienced Cassio (Colt Forgrave) to lieutenant instead of Iago. Iago becomes the central character of the play by learning secrets from each of the men, and orchestrates the downfall of Othello. Through the course of the play, Iago learns of a wealthy man named Rodrigo (Sarah Abbott), and Cassio’s love for Desdemona (Sarah Stanton).
Strong performances by the lead actors bring the characters to life, and the audience into their world. Barker’s interpretation of Iago as a female ensign is an empowering rendition of the cold and calculating character. Her ability to bring full emotion into the dialogue, and extensive command of the language, brings forward a believable performance. This is ever present in scenes alongside Odanga as Othello, in which the two actors play well against each other.
The emotional spectrum of Odanga is powerful, whether it’s smitten love when with Desdemonda, or full on anger and jealousy when speaking of Cassio—even the raw angst when he discovers the error of his ways. He is able to navigate these emotional variants with a fine-tuned compass.
Rip wants to remind the audience that they’re still imagining these events in Afghanistan amongst the barracks, on the base and in the field. He effectively accomplishes this with modern dress, weapons and context.
The play suffers in two areas. While performances by Turner, Sheppard, Forgrave and Adler are strong, others are not. While comical at times, Sam O’Beirn’s portrayal of Montano betrays the raw emotions contained within any scene he partakes in.
Additionally, while Michael Van Holst is well versed in his character of Lodovico, he too lacks the conviction to bring the character forward on stage into something more real.
It may seem easy to criticize a community production for a lack of set design, but in this case, it’s not so much the lack of design. Rather, it is the issue of set changes.
There is no indication between each act that there is a change in location, and it isn’t until the second half of the play that we see the welcomed sign of a new set piece. It’s not to say that the changes in scenes aren’t signaled—the director has chosen modern songs as well as sounds of war to indicate venue changes—but the play would benefit from some other indicators.
With the overall run time coming in at just over two hours, this artful rendition of a literary classic would be well-received amongst Shakespeare fans and any fan of the theatre looking for a new twist on an old play.
Othello plays at The ARTS Project until tomorrow. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 at InfoSource or at the door.