Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Southwest Shakespeare Company
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of If/Then, Deathtrap, Cock, and Thoroughly Modern Millie

Hope Brown and Amanda Renee Baker
Photo by Mark Gluckman
Hatred, jealousy, and deception are at the core of William Shakespeare's Othello. It is considered to be one of his great tragedies, and Southwest Shakespeare Company's production draws upon the humor within Shakespeare's words to balance the dramatic intrigue and betrayal of the plot. While this somewhat lighter tone might not bode well with purists, when combined with the exceptional, layered performances from Jesse James Kamps as Iago and Hope Brown as Othello, the end result is a solid production of this tale of murder and mayhem.

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
Stage Manager: Rebecca Thornton
Scenic Designer: Patrick Walsh
Lighting Designer: Daniel Davisson
Costume Designer: Maci Hosler
Sound Designer: Peter Bish
Hair and Makeup Designer: Sasha Wordlaw
Properties Designer: Brianna Catlin
Fight Choreographer: David Barker

Othello, a noble Moor in the service of the Venetian state: Hope Brown
Desdemona, wife to Othello, and Brabantio's daughter: Amanda Renee Baker
Iago, Othello's "ancient" or ensign: Jesse James Kamps
Emilia, wife to Iago: Jordan Letson
Brabantio, father to Desdemona, a Venetian senator: J. Kevin Tallent
Cassio, an honorable lieutenant, who serves under Othello: Wyatt Kent
Bianca, a courtesan and Cassio's mistress: Melody Knudson
Montano, military governor of Cypress, replaced by Othello: Beau Heckman
Roderigo, a gulled gentleman of Venice: Michael Bailey
Duke of Venice: Gary Keast
Lodovico, a Venetian nobleman, Desdemona's Cousin: Andy Cahoon
Gratiano, a Venetian nobleman, Desdemona's Uncle: J. Kevin Tallent
Senators of Venice: Beau Heckman, Jim Coates
Soldiers: Jeremiah James, Tony Latham, Gary Keast, Jim Coates

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