“I will not charm my tongue. I am bound to speak”, (Emilia – Act 5 Scene 2, Line 191). It takes the power of a woman to unravel the diabolical plans of Shakespeare's greatest villain, Iago. Second Thought Theatre's Othello closes out their powerful 2015 season with a modern take on Shakespeare's tragic story of love, race, jealousy and hatred. Click through for my review of the play.
Tyrees Allen's stoic performance of our poor moor is a tension building showcase of the veteran actor's power and one of the many treats in the STT season closing production.
Director Joel Ferrell's return to STT (2013's Gruesome Playground Injuries) is a intimate and well paced look at Shakespeare's great leader of the venetian army and his slow demise. The words are purely Shakespeare as the cast wonderully tackles the verbage but in a setting that is modern. The majority of the main characters wear military fatigues and our Emilia (Jenny Ledel) is adorn in an all black riot gear like outfit. There is no set outside two long grey tables. The cast itself is scattered amongst the audience in a unique setup that allows scenes to unfold in front of different parts of the audience. The music sinks perfectly with the changing of the scenes & helps pinpoint the play's modern setting as late 20th or early 21st.
The Cast of Othello is as follows:
Tyrees Allen – Othello
Alex Organ – Iago
Blake McNamara – Cassio
Danielle Pickard – Duchess of Venice & Bianca
Aaron Roberts – Brabantio
Taylor Harris – Montana
Morgan Garrett – Desdemona
Jenny Ledel – Emilia
Max Hartman – Roderigo
Shakespeare's Othello tackles elements of race, love, lust, betrayal, religion, and jealousy. I thoroughly enjoyed this well-paced adrenaline pumping version. All of the cast has their defining moments as Shakespeare wonderfully intended for this gripping drama. The military clothing being modernized helps give us the audience a more familiar understanding, but also showcases the timeless nature of Shakespeare's vernacular. Overall this is a great way to close out what has been a ballsy and bold season for Second Thought Theater. I'd like now to showcase two particular performances that really standout. Alex Organ as Iago and Jenny Ledel as Emilia. I'll also mention some of the rest of the talented cast, but I think this pair really carry us through the emotional tragedy that unfolds.
Let's start with the great villain, Iago (Alex Organ). Iago's character is one of the most unique in all of Shakespeare's lexicon and outside Richard III may well be the most evil. The play references the devil throughout the production and it's no wonder why. As the only character that breaks the fourth wall Iago is obviously the guiding force of the action. It's his plot that the story allows to unfold. It's fitting that Alex is the only character in the cast that starts outside, literally he opens the play by standing in the exit door smoking a cigarette staring at a praying Othello. The rest of the cast, his pawns, are placed throughout the audience awaiting their master's next moves. Max Hartman's stylistic Roderigo is the first moving part as Iago puts his plan into motion. Simply put, Iago HATES the moor and wants him gone. He manipulates the wealthy Roderigo, who is in love with Desdemona, to help cause a rift between Othello and his beloved Lt. Cassio. The fall of Cassio's reputation is well handled in a drunken fight sequence that uses the entire room and even spills outside. Cassio becomes basically a fallen figure from then on and we see Iago jump through all his loops trying to now become Othello's main man. But it's a real stroke of luck that it's Iago's wife who gives him the most important piece of his puzzle. I'll get to that in a sec. Alex Organ showcases an amazing witty nature when speaking to us the audience. I really enjoyed just watching the sly smiles Alex would give the audience when moments of his plan actually came to fruition. His manipulations and calculations are easily the most exciting of the production. Without us wanting to see whether he'll suceed or not the play basically is just a sad freefall into tragedy. The audience almost seems to relish seeing Iago get satisfaction at his evil deeds. I knowingly laughed and nodded along as each step he took would lead to his next successful venture. The first act revolves around Iago's plot and properly ends with his convincing of Othello of the false lust of his beloved wife Desdemona.
In the first act our Desdemona (Morgan Garrett) is merely an obedient piece of property forsaken by her racist father and loved by her older husband. But her kind heart is revealed in her constant trying to save Cassio's reputation throughout the play. As Othello becomes verbally abusive, Tyrees booming voice is an amazingly powerful weapon, we witness Desdemona try to act submissive beyond comfort. Her actions of complete obedience become a tragic scarifice of her kind nature. She literally seems to think that Othello will come out of his crazy nature if she simply submits to his wild will. Morgan fully comes to highlight this nature with a subtle singing sequence near the end of Act 2. But the real star of the second act is Iago's wife. Emilia tries her hardest to snap Desdemona out of the trance like status that showcases to her powerful husband. Emilia is the one who gives Iago the hankerchief that was Othello's first gift to his love. It's that piece of cloth that sets forth Iago's master plan. Emilia's the only character that gives her husband shit and their back and forth nature is a real treat throughout the play. I especially love the playful fight Jenny and Alex have that highlights Emilia's unique love of Iago. But the real highlight of the production is Emilia's speech to Desdemona. As Desdemona is stuck singing her "grace" song we witness Emilia beome a pivotal figure in trying to crack Othello's crazy attacks against his wife. Jenny's passionate delivery of this famous speech highlights one of the most feminist moments in all of Shakespeare's canon.
But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,v As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is't frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.
(Act 5, Scene 1)
After this speech Jenny literally steals ever moment of the production until she finally reveals Iago's terrible plan in the play's final scene. She goes back and forth with Tyrees as he continues to lose his mind over his thoughts of adultery. There is a quality use of echoes as the cast members would loudly scream Cassio's name as Othello becomes more violatile. As he fully cracks we see Desdemona fully commit to her submissive nature. While this is all going on, Iago finalizes his murderous elements as he is succesful in creating a night-time fight between Roderigo and Cassio. Flashlights are wonderfully used to create a real sense of terror and confusion over this scene. Iago fully crosses the line to devil with his deadly actions in this sequence. But Jenny's Emilia has gained the real eye of the audience by then. Iago is less engaging to us the audience it seems the more we see Emilia become a real figure. Othello joins Iago as a murderer and it's Emilia who uncovers this tragic moment. She is the one that alerts the proper authorities and it's ultimately her that discovers the real culprit.
It seems fitting that Jenny and Alex are the best parts of this version of Othello. Iago's wife is famously the one that actually gives him the most damning weapon in his plan, that darn hankerchief. It's because of that action that basically the ladies in the play are doomed to die at the hands of their husbands. Shakespeare's ultimate statement on marriage?
Overall this production of Othello is powerful and moving. Give Second Thought Theatre the proper farewell to 2015 as they have given us something special.
The production runs through August 8th and for more information please go, here.