Director Bob Frazer opens Othello with Cassio’s mistress Bianca (Sereana Malani) singing a beautiful melody that blends into an anti-slavery speech by Abraham Lincoln, an interesting and fitting choice.
Iago (Kayvon Kelly) airs his grievances against Othello (Luc Roderique), to the naïve, lovesick Roderigo (Andrew Cownden), and the two conspire to rid themselves of the Moor who is at the heart of their suffering.
Othello will pay for his oversight of Iago and Cassio will be the pawn they use to dismantle his marriage to Desdemona. Once that is accomplished Iago assures Roderigo that he will be positioned to win Desdemona’s affections. Together the two men weave a web of lies that inevitably ensnares them all.
Kelly wastes no time establishing himself as the driving force of the play. He is mesmerizing as the sinister Iago and adds a physical and emotional charm to the character that provides an ideal balance to a frightening mentality. Kelly’s dialogue is articulate and rhythmical to the effect that it draws us into the story in a manner in which we are able to better understand the text. Rather than force the dense text, Kelly pauses and breathes a refreshing clarification into each line as if they were spoken for the first time.
Luc Roderique steps into the role of Othello opposite the captivating Kayla Deorksen as ill-fated Desdemona. Roderique and Deorksen are a strong pairing who embody their characters with a profundity that is emotional and true, and their collective timing is intuitive.
Music and song weave together the scenes and set transitions in the most delightful way, building on the Civil War theme and affirming the era.
There are some choices that did not hit the mark quite as well. The set design is simple and effective for the most part but a bit sparse in the second half of the play. The critical skirmish between Cassio and Roderigo, and subsequently Iago, is overshadowed and literally blocked in part by the enormity of the well-lit set transition to the bedchamber in the middle of the stage. Lastly, Desdemona’s fate is sealed rather violently, even by today’s standards, and drew audible exclamations of shock from audience members, which may have cost them the enthusiastic ovation they fully deserved.
Having said that, Frazer’s rendition of Othello is brilliant for many reasons. It is set well, cast well, and injected with heart and soul difficult to infuse in popular Shakespearean texts. As a first time director at Bard on the Beach Frazer is strong and insightful. His overall experience as a director (he has 10 plays under his belt and is the Artistic Director for osimous theatre) is a testament to his talent as a thespian. If you see one play this year at Bard, it should be Othello.
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