Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The plot is fairly straight forward. Othello's villainous ensign Iago, having been passed over for a promotion, repeatedly plots against him. Iago's hatred is so deep that he ultimately convinces Othello that his new wife Desdemona is having an affair. Jealously, rage, and death follow.
Set against a minimal scenic design, with just one small platform and six billowing curtains, director Harold Dixon focuses on Shakespeare's words, letting them ring clear from his exceptional cast. From sheer joy and happiness at the love he has for his new bride to a man who is mad with jealousy and plagued with doubt and despair, Hope Brown embodies the range of Othello's emotions quite well. Brown is proficient in showing us how this man changes, with rage and anger taking over, once his growing suspicions about Desdemona's honesty come to light. Jesse James Kamps is just as good as Iago. He is adept at portraying the constantly plotting and determined deceiver with cunning looks, a wry smile, and a mischievous wink. His deceit shows no limits, growing deeper and even feeding upon itself. Both men are delivering well rounded, passionate, and richly thought out portrayals.
As their wives, Amanda Renee Baker and Jordan Letson are quite good. Baker vibrantly displays Desdemona's suffering and confusion when confronted about her alleged indiscretion and you feel for her as the victim of her unfortunate circumstances. While Iago's wife Emilia participates somewhat in Iago's plan, Letson shows echoes of pain, shock, and reflection when she encounters the resulting horror of her participation. Letson holds her own against the forceful Kamps and delivers Shakespeare's pro-feminist words firmly. In smaller parts, J. Kevin Tallent, Wyatt Kent, Melody Knudson, and Andy Cahoon deliver assured performances.
While Patrick Walsh's sparse set isn't that scenically exciting, Maci Hosler's costumes and Sasha Wordlaw's hair and make-up designs are vibrant, full of color and a richness that swiftly transports us back to the 17th century setting. Daniel Davisson's lighting and Peter Bish's sound successfully evoke the moods of the play.
Othello is a sobering and commanding work. Watching the spiraling disintegration of this authoritative man who simply trusts the wrong person is sad, shocking, and ultimately horrifying. Even with possibly too much of an emphasis on the humor in the script, which could easily derail the serious nature of these two men and the descent they both take, the moving performances and firm direction make Southwest Shakespeare's production as strong, calculated, and forceful as Iago's deceptive plot.
Othello runs in repertory with Comedy of Errors through January 30th, 2016, with performances at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 East Main Street in Mesa, AZ. Tickets can be purchased at swshakespeare.orgor by calling 480.644.6500
Director: Harold Dixon