Court Theater opens its season with the Shakespearian tragedy, The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. If some are not familiar with Shakespeare’s stories, it’s becoming a tragedy as today’s modern educational programs across the United States. The National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers who continuously develop their Common Core Standards are moving away from the reading of classic fiction, so let’s have a refresher.
The story revolves around Othello, a Moorish general, and Iago, Othello’s standard-bearer who desired but appointed a military promotion. Iago, who despises Othello and is jealous of his success, sets his sights on being the antagonist. He enlisted Roderigo, a lecherous Venetian lusting after Othello’s wife, Desdemona. Iago conceives to destroy Othello by causing him to believe that Desdemona, his wife, is having an affair with his lieutenant, Michael Cassio. Desdemona is the daughter of Brabantio, Venetian Senator, is enraged that she eloped with Othello.
Using the desires of Cassio to please his general and Roderigo, besotted passion for Desdemona, Iago calls to Othello to, “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see. She has deceived her father, and may thee.” This deceptive jealousy causes Othello to doubt the loyalty of his new bride and kills her without cause after Iago plants the handkerchief Othello gave to Desdemona in Cassio’s lodgings.
Being one of 10 tragedies penned by Shakespeare and The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, considered one of his top five tragedies written, Court makes a bold decision to change the scenery to bring the audience front and center into this tragedy. In addition, they incorporate swiveled chairs on stage, where the audience could stay engaged with the movement, which featured scappling throughout the theater. It’s a different approach that can keep people within the flow of this 100 minutes performance, but it has to be a financial concern with only 80 seats available in this 390 seat theater. Finally, as a safety precaution, the production should consider using battery-operated lights during the scene where Roderigo attacks Cassio instead of a construction light with a long electrical cord.
Although other productions have endeavored to mix modern music into Shakespearean tragedies, as a purest, it was strange to hear with such a profound plotted tragedy; however, it doesn’t spoil the great acting in this play which starts with Kelvin Roston, Jr.
Roston, returning to the Court after his stellar performers of Oedipus Rex & King Hedley II, is excellent as Othello and has developed into a prominent lead actor in Chicago. In the role of Othello performed by greats like Paul Robeson and James Earl Jones, we witness Roston bringing his impeccable ability to transform into any character. He always provides impressive performances, and he doesn’t disappoint in his interpretation of Othello, the stoic but green-eyed general fooled by his standard-bearer.
Next, Court brings back another actor, Timothy Edward Kane, as the jealous and bitter Iago. Kane’s movements and facial expressions can tell a story within itself. His riveting one-person adaptation of Homer’s Iliad, An Iliad performed at the Oriental Institute, was one of his best. As Iago, you can feel his hatred and the plotting within his mind to deceive his brethren. Together, Roston Jr and Kane are a theatrical treat. Finally, Sheldon D. Brown returns to Court as Cassio, and his performance makes him someone to look for in upcoming plays.
Directors Charles Newell and Gabrielle Randle-Bent allow the actors the freedom of representing their characters; filled the stage with great performances by Amanda Drinkall (Desdemona), Sean Fortunato (Brabantio/Montano), Erik Hellman (Roderigo), Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel (Emilia), Karissa Murrell Myers (Duke), and Darren Patin / Ari Gato, known as Chicago’s Drag Queen as Bianca.
Although the ethnicity of Othello is considered ambiguous, most characters exhibit some racism toward Othello. The reference of being black and the geographic continent of Othello permeates throughout the discussions of historical scholars, but most portraits display him as a black man. Iago and Roderigo speak the most apparent racial slurs against Othello. In a more profound content, the tragedy deals with the struggles with race and the hatred that develops internally in the souls of humanity. How vain envy, uncontrolled jealousy, and a demanding, self-righteous honor can lead to deception.
In this tragedy, many will give up the ghost due to one man’s loathing and resentment, but Iago’s will live, only to perish in the eternal hell of his silence. In the end, being sentenced for the murders of Roderigo, Emilia, and Desdemona, Othello commits suicide, and Cassio is appointed as Othello’s successor.
Let’s Play Highly Recommends, The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice at Court Theater.
The production should consider using battery-operated lights instead of a construction light with a long electrical cord.
The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor Of Venice
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Charles Newell and Gabrielle Randle-Bent
October 8 – December 5, 2021
Filed under: ChicagoNow