Theater Review: 'Othello'

By: 
Ben Miles

Thought to have been written in 1603, William Shakespeare’s “Othello” is a tragedy inspired by Italian novelist and poet Cinthoi’s 1565 story, “A Moorish Captain” (“Un Capitano Moro”). Now, under the inventive direction of Aurora J. Culver, “Othello” is on the boards at Long Beach Playhouse’s Studio Theatre through September 28.

By placing this 400-year-old play in the 1960s Director Culver, according to her program notes, hopes to parallel the “fear and hate” we experience today with those same social maladies that Shakespeare addressed in “Othello” in the early 15th century. This conceit – thanks to a strong (though uneven) cast and creative stagecraft, including some stunning fight choreography by Matt Franta – is effective.

Imagine Venice as a global military power. When the younger military officer, Cassio (a callow characterization by Christian Jordan Skinner) is promoted by General Othello (a formidable Alexander Harris) to a rank higher than Iago – Othello’s trusted but ruthless ensign – Iago (Don Kindle savoring this most juicy of roles) becomes determined to have revenge for this perceived injustice.

He does so by enlisting a cadre of unaware accompanist including Rodgerigo (traditionally cast as an male, in this instance Amara Phelps adds an intriguing feminine dimension to this character), who’s an unconventional Venetian whom Iago urges to go to Senator Brabantio (David Clark Hutchison) and inform him that his daughter, Desdemona (a committed embodiment by Carly Taylor), is going to elope with Othello, a Moor who is the very incarnation of “the other,” a Muslim amidst a country of Christians. Brabantio is furious at this breech of matrimonial protocol.

“Othello” underscores the timelessness of hatred, betrayal, jealousy and revenge. Interestingly, terms such as “epilepsy,” and “seizure” and venerable phrases such as “O, beware, my Lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on,” and “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at; I am not what I am” remain in common consciousness today.

With language that has endured and transcended time and with plot complexities that outdo the most melodramatic of soap operas, “Othello” is a tragedy for the ages. With players such as Hillary Weintraub as Emilia, Erin Snett as Bianca and the offbeat casting of Lorraine Winslow as the Duke, this muscular production of “Othello” is an accessible show for audiences with mature sensibilities.

“Othello” continues in the Studio Theatre of the Long Beach Playhouse through September 28.

Evening performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sundays.

The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 East Anaheim Street, Long Beach.

For reservations call (562) 494-1014. For online ticketing and further information visit lbplayhouse.org.

ben@beachcomber.news

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