365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

146. Review for Richmond Shakespeare’s “Othello”

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From the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Iman Shabazz is a versatile actor and poet who has appeared in many roles as an ensemble member with the African American Repertory Theatre, often as a strong and calming figure, and the bard’s words roll smoothly off this poet’s tongue.

He is also a strong figure in the title role of Othello in this joint production of Richmond Shakespeare Theatre and AART, although certainly not calming. Unfortunately, I didn’t find him a very sympathetic figure, either.

Director Jamie Rees chooses to focus on the insecurities of Shakespeare’s characters, a valid thematic perspective but one that nonetheless fails to expose them as multidimensional figures. It is sad that the powerful general is so easily manipulated by his power-hungry ancient or second lieutenant, Iago (played by Jeff Cole on Saturday evening), but of course, we, the audience, have the advantage of knowing Iago’s plans, thanks to his immodest soliloquies.

Cole is sufficiently complex and devious in his dealings with Othello but uncomfortably irreverent when it comes to his own wife, Emilia (Katrinah Lewis on Saturday evening).

And speaking of Shakespeare’s women, Lewis is a joy to watch. She breezes — or I should say, struts — through the first act, playing second fiddle to Rebecca Muhleman’s chaste and lovely Desdemona, whose defiance of her father, Brabantio, and defense of the scorned lieutenant Cassio, shows her to be more than just a demure damsel.

But in the second act, as it slowly dawns on Emilia that her own husband, Iago, is behind all the devastation, Lewis becomes the strong focal point of the ending. Her powerful denouement — standing up to her own husband, while remaining loyal to her wronged friend and confidante Desdemona — leads inevitably to her death.

Speaking of strutting, there’s a lot of it going on. Desdemona and Emilia strut in stilettos, and when Shabazz struts onstage at the beginning of “Othello” to claim his beloved fair lady, Desdemona, the extended shoulders of his vest at first appear to be part of a period design. But it’s soon apparent that this is the only hint of Elizabethan attire, and the garments of the succeeding characters become increasingly interesting and even risqué.

Desdemona’s scorned admirer, Roderigo, sports a Kangol cap and suspenders. The soldiers wear contemporary combat boots and flak vests, and the courtesan Bianca barely wears a body-hugging teddy and red cut-out stiletto boots. All of which only adds to the raucous good humor of Shakespeare, for in spite of all the jealousy, bigotry, revenge, power plays, lies, murder and manipulation, there is much to laugh at, and it is a highly pleasurable “two hours of traffic” of the stage.


Written by Caroline Mincks

February 24, 2010 at 10:15 PM

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