While Brooks and Page have both played their roles before, and Kahn directed an earlier Othello that went to Broadway, this production brings together three talents working with a unified vision and little “acting” for its own sake.
With his machinations and asides to the audience, Iago rivals Richard III as William Shakespeare’s most devious creation, but Page avoids the temptation of playing up each wicked flourish. By remaining cool and ironic, letting his deeds speak for themselves, Page presents the character as a surprisingly contemporary villain.
Brooks previously performed the role of Othello in Washington in 1990, in a production marked by the presence of African-American actors as Iago and Emilia. His characterization has mellowed since: then hot-headed and easily moved (opposite the vivid Iago of Andre Braugher), now he is calm and well-seasoned, comfortable with his life and the place he has carved for himself in the world. This Othello would not be taken in by a self-dramatizing Iago, but accepts Page’s subtle sociopathy at face value. The text’s description of Iago’s lies as poison rings true here: with each “dose” from Iago, Brooks becomes sicker and more credulous, leading to his final collapse and eventual redemption.
Colleen Delany is an admirable Desdemona who demonstrates both the unquestioning love and the backbone of a woman who has abandoned her previous life for the sake of love. As the unsuspecting pawn in Iago’s plot against Othello, she is pivotal, and Delany’s low-key intelligence (until the devastating final scenes) never succumbs to easy emotion.
David Sabin is magisterial in his few scenes as Brabantio, Desdemona’s father. As Cassio, the honorable soldier in over his head, Gregory Wooddell is serviceable, but never really shines.
James Noone’s scenic design uses bare wooden plank walls in imaginative ways to serve as both the palaces of Venice and the fortress of Cyprus. Lighting designer Charlie Morrison uses tightly focused spotlights to keep the emphasis on the performers’ facial expressions, while Jess Goldstein’s costumes and Martin Desjardins’ sound design add measurably to the overall theatrical experience.
The Shakespeare Theatre’s last production of Othello, in 1997, was non-traditional in its “photo-negative” casting: Patrick Stewart’s Othello was the only white actor in a cast of African-Americans.
Shakespeare Theatre Company