A slim moon and dark scenery set the mood for Marin Theatre Company's production of Othello. The foreboding atmosphere reminds audiences that, even during the happier moments of Shakespeare's classic tragedy, they are in for an intense, soul-stirring two and a half hours.
Everyone knows what to expect from a Shakespeare tragedy - engaging characters, ironic plot twists, that romantic Shakespearian language. But Shakespeare's text involves so many intricate details told in old English, a strong cast able to tell the story through their emotionally charged movements and facial expressions becomes an essential ingredient for a successful and understandable production.
For Othello, that spark couldn't be more imperative as jealousy transforms the title character from a gentle husband into a monster. Although the audience never sees him in full action, Aldo Billingslea brings out the character's background of war, discrimination and slavery with a beautiful, but pained voice and, when the script calls for it, brutal strength. The inevitable fatal finale, so well orchestrated by Director Jasson Minadakis, constrains uneasy viewers to their seats as Othello strangles his wife, Desdemona.
Shakespeare's doomed cast has been easily manipulated with the wiles of friendship and camaraderie by one Iago. In fact, his "friends" are so eager to attest to his just and honest character, audiences may get tired of the irony by the time the second act comes around. Although Iago plots against Othello as revenge for not giving him a promotion, his asides and repeated commentary on how he hates the Moor make him out to be more of a man holding the puppet strings for its mere amusement. Craig Marker plays the cruel villain with cool cunning, strangely making him one of the more appetizing characters of the play.
Marin's production excels as Iago's plotting reaches its climax. Mairin Lee's performance has formerly lacked the innocence and purity of her character, although she speaks with convictio similar to how one might recite a dramatic Shakespeare monologue. As she faces the beast Othello has become and realizes her undeserved fate, Lee's Desdemona finally comes into her own with potent tears and convincing hysteria. Still, next to Liz Sklar, who plays Iago's wife, Lee stands in the shadow. Sklar delivers a consistently strong character, and she inspires audiences with her rousing defense of Desdemona's blamelessness.
Thanks to Minadakis, the females of Marin's Othello have extra spunk. Although Desdemona wears the traditional feminine garbs of the time period, the other females in the cast are crafted into warriors with swords and masculine wear. The costumes seem out of context at first, but, although they do not fit the average concept of women of the time, they suit their characters perfectly, especially given Sklar's passionate performance and Shakespeare's fiery dialogue.
Thus, despite its dark tale, dim lighting and appropriate sets, Marin Theatre's production of Othello ignites the theatrical experience, setting Shakespeare's play ablaze with spirited acting and excellent staging. Marin Theatre Company takes audiences down a dire and taxing road, but it's a road they won't regret taking.
Marin Theatre Company
Through April 22
Photo Credit: David Allen