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ISSUE 117 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/5/2003

'Othello' keeps winter 'green'

By Diana Frantz
Variety Editor


Friday, December 5, 2003

Theater during the Christmas season is not necessarily synonymous with “A Christmas Carol.” Certainly, attending the production of “A Christmas Carol,” showing on the main stage at the Guthrie is a worthy winter activity. But Shakespeare’s “Othello,” staged in the smaller, more intimate Guthrie Lab until Dec. 21, should not be overlooked. There’s nothing like a good tragedy to fill the heart with Christmas cheer.

“Othello” is the second play of the Guthrie Lab season, and the first Shakespeare play ever produced at the Lab. The decision to stage “Othello” off of the main stage allows for an emotionally gripping theater experience. In the intimate setting of the Lab, theatergoers are able to connect with the psychological and emotional angst of characters torn apart by jealousy.

Superb acting provides the backbone for the success of the Guthrie production of “Othello.” Lester Purry plays the title character with unmistakable grace and flare. Acting the part of Othello is like walking through a minefield; the character can easily come across as overly-simple or hyper-masculine. Purry dances through the minefield with ease. His Othello is enigmatic, intelligent, playful and strong.

Cheyenne Casebier, who plays Othello’s wife, Desdemona, also gives a praiseworthy performance. She succeeds in giving dimension to the rather vapid, entirely too-virtuous character. Bill McCallum plays the arch-villain, Iago, with delightful duplicity. Be sure to study McCallum’s picture in the program before the house lights go down. He looks like a really nice guy. By the time the curtain closes, however, McCallum has made Iago the man the audience loves to hate.

The one glaring flaw in the play is the terribly clichéd use of lighting and sound to produce lightning and thunder during Iago’s most devious soliloquies. The first clap of thunder jolts the audience out of their seats but adds nothing to the play. Lightning was effective in the Disney cartoon “Snow White,” but lightning in Shakespeare’s “Othello” lowers the complicated and deceitful Iago to the level of a children’s fairytale. He is scary enough without the lightning.

The costumes used in the production are somewhat incongruous with the typical Shakespearean production; they are not Elizabethan, but Victorian. In all seriousness, Shakespeare was never really known for his historical accuracy anyway. The choice of Victorian costuming underscores the timelessness of “Othello.”

One of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, “Othello” delves into the depths of the human psyche under pressure. The play is an extreme example of the damage caused by jealousy, a familiar human emotion that becomes a festering, contagious disease if not swiftly abated. Thankfully, jealousy does not always result in bloodshed as it does in “Othello.” Nevertheless, the play offers insight into the destructiveness of jealousy in the lives of all human beings, beyond Shakespeare’s fictional characters.

Yes, it is true. People are jealous creatures. So, everyone who goes to “A Christmas Carol” at the Guthrie really should see “Othello” too. After all, the cast of “Othello” is rumored to have a jealousy problem. Who knows what will happen if they are attacked by the green-eyed monster?





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