Friday, July 8, 2016

An uncivil war

Othello soars at Bard
by Christopher Key

Director Bob Frazer credits actors Luc Roderique and Kayvon Kelly for the idea of setting Shakespeare’s tragic Othello in 1864 during the American Civil War.  Their motives may not have been entirely pure since they ended up with the two biggest roles, but the concept is brilliant.

Othello has always struck me as the most accessible of the Bard’s tragedies because who hasn’t felt twinges of jealousy at some point?  Never mind that the characters are in positions of power; it’s the human emotions that grab us and won’t let go.  If you’re not physically and emotionally limp by the time Othello ends, you need to check your vitals.

I’ve always found that the shows on the Howard Family Stage in the Douglas Campbell Theatre represent the very best of Bard on the Beach.  The theatre is smaller and the thrust stage sweeps the audience into the action.  But it’s also where Bard goes out on the edge and takes risks that are not always evident in the mainstage productions.

While Shakespeare’s script focuses on “the green-eyed monster,” which is as old as Cain and Abel, Frazer’s adaptation highlights racism and bigotry, which is as contemporary as this morning’s 

Photo credit - David Blue

Roderique plays the title role with enormous sensitivity, making the audience squirm while watching an essentially good man be utterly destroyed by his emotions.  Yes, I know that not everyone likes to squirm, but it’s one of the hallmarks of great theatre.  Like good priests, good playwrights comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.

Photo credit - David Blue

The scheming Iago is the most interesting character in the show as he manipulates his superior officer like an Elizabethan Dick Cheney.  Kelly’s interpretation pulls no punches, but he manages to score his points about racism without inflicting blunt trauma injuries on the audience.

Kayla Deorksen sparkles as she delivers a spirited and sensual Desdemona.  This character must be played just right or the audience won’t identify with the insane jealousy her husband feels over her fictional betrayals.  Deorksen is firmly in Goldilocks territory.

As expected at Bard on the Beach, the supporting cast is as solid as Donald Trump’s head.  Watch for outstanding performances by Andrew Cownden, Luisa Jojic, David Warburton and Sereana Malani.

Costume Designer Mara Gottler handles military uniforms and hoop skirts with equal ease and Sound Designer Steve Charles brilliantly captures the music of that turbulent American era.  Fight director Nicholas Harrison makes all the mayhem frighteningly real and Lighting Designer John Webber has obviously seen what light looks like in Charleston.

I’ve got one more show to review, but at this point, Othello is this year’s must-see production.  It plays in repertory with Pericles on the second stage through September 17th.  See the Bard on the Beach website for a complete schedule and to purchase tickets.

Remember what I said about dressing for Junuary?  This year, it also holds for Julember.

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