Trinity Rep continues its long tradition of masterfully interpreting Shakespeare with its intense production of the Bard’s tragedy of ”Othello.”
Set in the round in the sprawling upstairs Chace Theatre, director Whitney White uses the bare stage and surrounding stairways to tell the tragic story of the Moor who is deceived by the man he mistakenly believes to be his best friend.
White makes use of many props and Amith Chandrashaker’s effective lighting to tell the story. The first act centers around a huge container, while the second act features Othello and Desdemona’s bedroom.
The dozen actors move speedily around the stage and upper levels, dressed in modern clothing (credit Andrew Jean), letting us know that the ancient tale has just as much relevance today.
Jude Sandy makes an impressive Othello, strong and powerful, yet easily influenced by a man who claims to love him but carries a deep hatred toward him. Stephen Thorne, an 18-year veteran of the company, gives his finest performance as Iago, the villainous conniver who stirs the plot to a boil, ruining lives by subtly spreading “fake news.”
One of the joys of following Trinity Rep and its stable of veteran actors is watching an actor like Thorne come off a comic role to take on the role of one of the nastiest characters in Shakespeare’s world.
Right from the opening scene we feel the prejudices of men toward someone who is different, a Moor no less. And this black man had the audacity to marry one of them, a white woman who is not only a different race but a different class.
Brian McEleny plays Desdemona’s father with a deep, unforgiving hatred of her husband. McEleny plays the character with such passion that a friend asked me if he had had a stroke.
Rebecca Gibel, one of the newer company members (2013), like veteran Stephen Thorne, has shown her versatility in a variety of roles. She makes the perfect Desdemona, showing her love, her passion and her confusion over her husband’s jealousy and abusive behavior. It is not only prejudice that shows its ugly head in “Othello,” it is jealousy, the “green-eyed monster” that divides our tragic hero from his devoted wife.
Sexism runs rampant throughout the play, sometimes subtle, but at one point blatant when Emelia (Angela Brazil) shouts a defiant remark to her husband, and the audience, completely caught up in the tense scene, shouts out their support.
Mauro Hantman, as the clueless Roderigo, provides the comic relief in the tragedy, seeking advice from Iago and not knowing what to do with it.
Charlie Thurston, who joined the company at the same time as Gibel, has the catalyst role of Cassio in a plot-changing situation involving a handkerchief. He, along with the rest of the cast, plays important supporting roles that require much physicality.
Put it all together, and you have one powerful, intense work of Shakespeare.
“Othello” is at Trinity Rep through March 18. If you like Shakespeare done well, don’t miss it. Call 351-4242 for reservations. Because of the in-the-round configuration, there are additional seats available and all have good sight lines.