Theater Review: “Othello” in the 21st century at WSC Avant Bard
A 21st century spin on a Shakespearean classic
Directed by Tom Prewitt, the WSC Avant Bard production of “Othello” tells the classic Shakespearean story of betrayal in a well-executed performance. With a unique set, original composition and a dynamic narrative, this is a performance that is well worth the time of any Shakespeare lover.
The most visually striking and noticeable element of the production was the set. The show is performed in a black box theater that has been designed to resemble the interior of a submarine or naval base. There was a raised platform center stage that looked like an electronic map but also served as a platform for various monologues. There were also two televisions mounted upstage that were used to enhance the play’s narrative. Since the set was limited to one location, the televisions occasionally played recordings of scenes in other locations in order to streamline the story.
The lighting of this production highlighted every scene with emphasis. Violent blues and reds were commonplace and come off as natural in such a naval setting. Occasionally Othello was cast under a focused beam of red lighting, highlighting his psychological struggle. Most memorable however, was the scene in which Iago convinced Roderigo to kill Cassio. The entire stage was washed in green lighting, a manifestation of Iago’s immense jealousy that has driven him to such extremes. This was the reveal of the “green-eyed monster.”
The music, composed by Roc Lee, was sparse but effective, using solitary piano to thin, mournful strings to a dramatic orchestral swell
Though the acting was commendable, it was rather evident that this was one of the cast’s earlier performances of the season. Actors frequently jumped the gun with their lines; interrupting one another, thinking it was their turn to speak. There were also occasional stutters and repetitions of certain words that distracted the audience from the performance.
Despite these occasional hiccups, there were still several standout actors that truly sold it. Chuck Young (Othello) has a vast repertoire of expressions that bring the dynamic internal struggle of the moor to life. Frank Britton (Iago) caught many by surprise with his charming swagger, making his character one the most likeable villains in Shakespeare. Providing much-needed comic relief are Jay Hardee (Roderigo) and Manolo Santalla (Brabantio). Hardee pulls off the awkward white guy who can’t quite “get with it” beautifully, while Santalla plays the hilarious, confused old man who seems to be in a constant state of incredulity.
Though clearly set in current-day, there were various inconsistencies throughout the production that contradicted the time period. In the beginning of the play, Iago holds a smartphone as he shows the other actors some letters. Later on, when Othello receives letter, he gets it in a physical envelope. Also, in spite of being surrounded by naval technology, characters exclusively wielded knives. Although this may have made the fight scenes easier to choreograph, it still created dissonance in the show.
Overall, the actors kept the audience’s attention and the set, music and lighting furthered the narrative in a fairly compelling direction. Any fan of Shakespeare would do well to see this production.
“Othello” runs from Feb. 4 to March 1 at Arlington’s Theater on the Run.