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This powerful little production of Shakespeare's depiction of one of the foulest sides of human nature makes the racial aspect of the tragedy ring resoundingly true, especially in today's climate of fear and prejudice.

Theater Review (NYC): Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’

Julian Thomas in the title role in Match:Lit's 'Othello,' photo by Clay Burch
Julian Thomas in the title role in Match:Lit’s ‘Othello,’ photo by Clay Burch

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.

Woodrow Proctor as Iago in Match:Lit's 'Othello,' photo by Clay Burch
Woodrow Proctor as Iago in Match:Lit’s ‘Othello,’ photo by Clay Burch

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.


About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.

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