Match: Lit‘s production of Othello emphasizes the intimacy of the emotions that drive the story: jealousy, ambition, lust. In the round in a tiny plain space with no scenery and only the barest props, Shakespeare’s suffocating tragedy of the Moorish general, his innocent wife, and his treacherous ensign plays out as if in our own minds.
Director Anaïs Koivisto makes inventive use of space. With the audience in a single row around the perimeter, the main characters enter and exit through various corners, while others appear only in silhouette behind white gauze screens at our backs. It’s an intensely effective way of telling this multifaceted, if claustrophobic, tale with a cast of just eight.
Othello‘s racial aspect rings resoundingly true in today’s climate of fear and prejudice. The strong cast brings it out forthrightly in the first part of the play, when we see the prejudice against the Moor, against his position of authority, and most of all against his marriage to the fair and very white Desdemona. Iago (Woodrow Proctor), all-consumingly resentful at being passed over for a promotion, connives with the hapless Rodrigo, by playing upon the latter’s unrequited desire to possess Desdemona himself, to bring down his unwitting superior. Proctor makes Iago believably poisonous, squeezing every possible drop from his every line and word.
Equally strong, in a more regal way, is Julian Thomas’s Othello, crashing from deserted happy husband with a shining career to jealous beast with nowhere to go but down into the depths of disillusionment, murder, and suicide. His fury and pain feel all too real, and if some of his lines fly by too fast to fully follow, the raw feeling behind them is never in doubt as the performance remains impressively, authentically Shakespearean; the language triumphs even as the green-eyed ogre conquers Othello.
Othello becomes a bit less fully dimensional in the second half, as the tragedy overwhelms him, while Clare Tyers’s Desdemona never quite matches the intense level of commitment her co-stars muster. Ty Baumann’s Rodrigo provides exactly the right tone and degree of comic relief, while Kristin Sgarro makes Emilia crushingly real.
Crisp pacing, lush acting, and intimate staging make this Othello of the id a sharp, satisfyingly frightening vision of one of the foulest sides of human nature. That it comes from 400 years ago figures almost not at all – the hallmark of a very solid production of Shakespeare.
Othello plays at the Access Theatre, 380 Broadway, until Nov. 6.