Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Othello is one of Shakespeare's most performed plays and Iago has been considered one of the greatest villains of all time. The tragedy of Othello fleshes out the Bard's arguably most harrowing, skin-crawling psychological drama. Many great actors have made the character mesmerizing. In the summer of 1943 my parents took me to New York where I saw the magnificent Paul Robeson portray Othello. José Ferrer played the villainous Iago and Uta Hagen was Desdemona. Over the years I have seen Lawrence Olivier, who played the Moor with a West Indian accent, Donald Sinden, and the outstanding Aldo Billingslea who is now playing the role at California Shakespeare Theatre in Orinda.
Othello is the kind of play that can take place in any period and still be relevant to today's world. It is a strong commentary on racism, especially in this production as Iago fervently expresses at the start of the play his hatred for his captain Othello, screaming out the words "I hate him, I hate him" and you know it is racially motivated. Although the title suggests that the tragedy belongs primarily to Othello, Iago plays an important role in the plot. He reflects the archetypical villain and has the biggest share of the dialogue. It is Iago who influences all the other characters at will, monitoring their movements and tricking them into an elaborate net of lies. He plays on their weaknesses while they refer to him as "honest" Iago, furthering his control over them.
Director Robert Currier is presenting the production in the classical style of the 15th century. He has assembled a large superlative cast to perform this two and a half hour production. Dameion Brown looks and acts likes a raw Othello as he goes from a loving and gentle husband to a raging inferno in the last scenes. His speech cadence is modern and he makes an exceptional presence on the stage as the jealous Moor. Cassidy Brown is outstanding as Iago. His puts a different spin on the insidious fellow, playing the role like a psychopath one sees in a slasher movie. The actor gives out clipped and controlled speeches. His speech cadence is also modern and sometimes he uses the word "man" after some of the long speeches.
Luisa Frasconi gives an interesting performance as Desdemona. She is very frothy in the role and finally comes into her own during the last twenty minutes of the play with some very good acting as the frighten wife of Othello. Elena Wright gives a perfect performance as the pliant and loyal Emilia, while Jeff Wiesen is terrific as the good-natured Cassio. He has the Shakespeare iambic pentameter down pat with his clear and distinguished voice. Braedyn Youngberg gives a thought-provoking performance as Roderigo although he tends to rush his words. Regina Morones has a small role as Bianca and she gives an energetic performance. The rest of cast, which includes Steve Price as Brabantio (he is the spitting image of Monty Woolley), Glenn Havlan, Richard Pallaziol, Mike Monagle, and Jackson Currier, give effective performances.
Costumes by Abra Berman are authentic 15th century wear. Set designer Jackson Currier presents an interesting set which looks like a dock area with a pool of water to the right of the stage.
With brilliant direction on the part of Robert S. Currier, powerful acting, and clever design, Marin Shakespeare Company's Othello is an event you do not want to miss.
Othello plays through September 25, 2016, at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California, 890 Belle Ave, San Rafael, Ca. For tickets call 415-499-4488 or visit www.marinshakespeare.org