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'Othello' at STC

Shakespeare Theater Company’s production of Othello, directed by Ron Daniels (photo by Scott Suchman)

We welcome this theater review from contributor Philip Dickerson.

When director Ron Daniels and actor Faran Tahir brought the idea of mounting the Shakespeare Theater Company’s current production of Othello to artistic director Michael Kahn a year ago, the world was a different place. As Daniels articulates in his notes, the shift in the national and international conversation towards Islam as a faith and culture has only made this tragedy more relevant. Shakespeare’s language concerning race and racism sounds all too familiar, set here in the years after World War I.

Daniels finds a comfortable balance in stressing the racial tension of the script without losing the complexities of certain characters, namely the villainous Iago, played by Jonno Roberts. Roberts allowed the natural orchestration his character is known for to drive the production. Roberts wasted no time in allowing the language to push and pull his fellow characters. In his soliloquies he had the most fun playing with pace, vowel, and gesture. The meter of the verse was stretched and manipulated as easily as those wrapped up in his plans. These solo moments may last a bit long to keep the moment of the story fluid and constant, but the ease that Roberts brings to the language is refreshing.

This ease in Roberts's performance was missing in the title character, played by Faran Tahir. While Tahir brought a gracious optimism to the stage during the first half of the production, the language often failed to come across as natural or spontaneous. Tahir also struggled to command vocally the vast space provided by Riccardo Hernandez’s set design. Made primarily of a handful of iron barrels and a raked metal floor, the open Harman Hall stage swallowed the physical and vocal power that Tahir worked hard to deliver.

Other Reviews:

Peter Marks, An ‘Othello’ of psychological realism (Washington Post, March 1)
The central relationship of the production was between Othello and his new bride, Desdemona, played by Ryman Sneed. Sneed tackled her character with blunt vigor and helped move the show forward when Roberts was absent. The push to make Desdemona a character of strength and independence blurred the honest intimacy between herself and Tahir. When the erosion of Othello’s mind and spirit began to invade Desdemona’s world it was hard to identify any strong change in the way she approached this new aggression from her husband. This underwhelming relationship created issues during the climax of the production. As Othello approached the bed where his sleeping wife lay vulnerable, the struggle in making that consequential decision seemed glossed over, almost too easy to make. The action of the crime itself also seemed forced and unbelievable.

Such trouble at the end of the production affected additional relationships, namely that between Iago and his wife, Emilia (Merritt Janson). This already tense relationship boils over when all truth is revealed; yet there again was a lack of justification for Emilia’s eruption and Othello’s remorse.

Othello runs three hours, with a 15-minute intermission, and performances will continue at the Shakespeare Theater Company’s Sidney Harman Hall until March 27.

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