Review: Jealousy is all the rage in Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Othello’
The brand of jealousy that drives the engine of William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Othello” is no run-of-the-mill grudge.
The playwright portrays the emotion as a powerful and malevolent force, a “green-eyed monster” that can quickly turn a noble hero into a crazed murderer. Here, suspicion comes on like the worst kind of sickness, a disease that clouds the mind, decimates the body and cuts off any chance of recovery. More than any other Shakespearean tragedy, “Othello” tracks the chilling consequences of a single and primal human urge.
The effect is utterly unsettling in the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s outstanding production of the show. In her directorial debut with the CSF, Lisa Wolpe leads a sterling cast through a thoughtful, nuanced and heartbreaking take on the text. The production brilliantly balances themes of race, class and politics with a central focus on the perils of jealousy and suspicion. Shakespeare’s psychological case study from the Elizabethan Age comes to vivid life thanks to subtle staging, artful lighting and sound design and, most of all, lead performances that bring a stirring depth and pathos to the central characters.
Like all the Bard’s best tragedies, “Othello” launches with the promise of victory and success on several fronts. Othello (Peter Macon), a Moorish military general in the Venetian Army, is engaged in a decisive battle against the Turks. Even as he’s locked in a struggle for military success, he also has recently wooed and married Desdemona (Laura Baranik), the daughter of Venetian senator Brabantio (Sam Gregory). On the cusp of military victory and romantic bliss, Othello faces a crossroads.
It’s a decisive point made all the more precarious by questions of race, politics and vengeance. Brabantio decries the wedding of his daughter to Othello, a black man from foreign shores. Othello’s standard-bearer, Iago (Geoffrey Kent), harbors his own secret hatred for his master, ill-will that stems from a host of factors. Othello has passed over Iago for promotion in favor of his lieutenant, Cassio (Peter Simon Hilton), a snub that forms only part of Iago’s list of perceived injuries. He’s convinced Othello seduced his own wife, Emilia (Vanessa Morosco), an accusation that’s never formally confirmed. Whatever the truth of the charge, Iago’s jealousy sparks a plot that will ignite Othello’s own suspicion and ultimate demise.
Iago hatches a masterful plot to destroy his general, and he manipulates characters like chess pieces to achieve his goal. He scams the Venetian gentleman Roderigo (Rodney Lizcano) out of jewels to fund his plots. He successfully schemes to get Cassio demoted. He urges Emilia to steal a prized handkerchief from Desdemona’s room. All these moves are to support the big lie Iago tells to his general — that Desdemona and Cassio are engaged in a secret tryst.
Read A.H. Goldstein’s full review in the Daily Camera.