Shakespeare became the thing to do once again as denizens of the Peterborough arts scene and Groundlings alike took in Mysterious Entity’s adaptation of Othello at the Market Hall. Racism and sexism are two key concepts that Othello is playing with.
Over and over the white characters surrounding Othello, no matter what their rank, attempt to undercut his authority by calling him “Moor” with a disdainful tone. Beau Dixon did an amazing job of conveying a subtle and subversive frustration on his face every time that particular tone was uttered to him. His love, Desdemona, has a father who is particularly misinformed and ignorant when it comes to the traditional cultural practices of the Moors. He accuses Othello of using magic or ancient drugs to ensnare his daughter’s heart, even though he should be happy that his daughter is marrying a General and a surgeon. Even though most characters are using Moor as a pejorative, Othello clearly takes strength from his culture, proclaiming that “I thought this slave had 40,000 lives” and “arise black vengeance.” At every point of distasteful hate and ignorance though, Iago seemed to have something to do with it.
Brad Breckenridge acted out every last drop he could from Iago, he even acted in the dark. The booming bellow in which he speaks rang throughout the Market Hall like the fallout of cannon fire. Iago is a cunning trickster that is motivated by am- bition and being regarded by others. He’s a man’s man, always back slapping, mak- ing lude jokes, grabbing crotches, talking about ladies, and pelvic thrusting. And his mustache made his big frowns seem like they were going to drip off of his face. “Who is he then, to say I play a villain,” Iago pleads at his mock trial in the very end. His machismo may have come from his rank but his bravado definitely came from his ambition.
The whole Venetian platoon portrayed varying archetypal male identities, largely constructed by insecurities. Roderigo, Iago’s henchman played by Matt Gilbert, was the shortest and tried to make up for it by being the most rash and hasty in battle. Iago was a classic joker, concealing true feelings with jokes, keeping a jolly barrier between himself and the truth. Cassio was so classically GI Joe that he was only interesting when Iago got him drunk (“poor and unhappy brains for drinking”). And Othello hid his insecurities so well that his own love, Desdemona, had to pay for the deception. This was one of the most interesting and clever jobs of casting, height literally determined rank for the four. The knives instead of rapiers were a thinly veiled phallic representation and the veil was fully revealed when Bianca, played by Hilary Wear, is seducing Cassio and casually floats her hand up and down his knife.
The female characters were the ones that were actually good people. Othello was the only man in the play that was not mean spirited, and even he was drawn into villainy by his own concealment of his insecurities. Emilia, Iago’s wife, played to perfection by Sue Newman, would have been the most admirable and noble character in the play if Desdemona had not been so moral, innocent, and pure—three concepts that construct a dangerous female archetype of its own. Emilia was less perfect, not less moral, but she was naïve, another vice classically attributed to women. She was always standing up for women’s rights and kept as much control as she could have over her unruly and dangerous husband.
This version of Othello was really easy to enjoy because it was short, to the point, and interesting. The staging was bold and dynamic. Subtle shifts in light intensity and placement shifted to match the emotional tone on stage. All portions of the stage were used for different reasons, even the balcony. The staging was really engaging when the actors came right up to the audience to deliver lines and when charac- ters would hide on stage while the action was going on. All of the acting was incredible, some of Beau’s more awkward sounding lines just rolled off his tongue like he had just thought of them (ex. “put by this barbarous brawl”). The amount of acting that was happening during a single breath was astounding and really made it easy to suspend any kind of disbelief. Somehow, the music was contemporary, but the roll of the snare drums and the plinky plunk of strings and even the innovative costuming put the audience in the Venetian army too.
It was a fantastic experience to go see Shakespeare and not feel like an uptight, over analytical yuppy. Congratulations Em Glasspool and the rest of Mysterious Entity for putting on an amazing show once again.