When it comes to Shakespeare, there's something to be said for simplicity. We often see the bard's plays produced in puzzling ways in which the setting and characters are modernized or other aspects get over-complicated, often to the disservice of the material. But when a production takes the minimal approach and allows Shakespeare's timeless words, characters, and themes come to light, the result is usually enchanting.
Such is the approach and the result of City Theatre's current production of Othello. With its simple production design, its attention to the text and characters, and flawless performances from the leads, Othello is sure to be a highlight of the City Theatre's season.
Set Designer Andy Berkovsky and Lighting Designers Lisa Schepps and Miranda Guillory provide us with a modest but beautiful environment. While the stage is fairly bare, it is adorned with Arabian inspired artwork and lights, and Lindsay McKenna's lush 1600s costumes adds to the atmosphere.
Director Jeff Hinkle has brought the material to a pin-point focus. The story of revenge, jealousy, betrayal, and racism effortlessly comes to the forefront through his direction and the fascinating performances of his cast. Still, there are two aspects of the show which seemed to be lacking. The first couple scenes drag a bit, and the climactic scene lacks the energy and violence we all expect to see. However, the strengths in Hinkle's direction definitely outweigh the weaknesses, largely due to his incomparable cast. Though he employs a fairly young cast, they all seem skilled beyond their years, and Shakespeare's poetic dialogue flows easily from their tongues.
As Desdemona, Laura Kathleen Artesi is angelic, innocent, and ethereal. With her soothing voice and her gentle demeanor, it's easy to understand why Othello would fall for her and why he would become so enraged at the thought of her infidelity. As Iago's wife, Emilia, Lindsay McKenna gives an understated performance that erupts with power in the final scene. Mario Silva creates a Rodrigo that is vulnerable, gullible, and easily misled.
But as strong as the cast is, the true reasons to see this production are Trevor Bissell as Othello and Andrew Bosworth as Iago. These two young performers should be on every Austin director's short list of Shakespearian actors. Bissell's rich and almost musical voice keeps us hanging on every word, and watching him descend from a position of sturdiness and confidence into a madness fueled by rage and jealousy is a fascinating treat. And Bosworth's treatment of Shakespeare's most beloved villain is second to none. Every word and moment is fueled by his intent to destroy Othello. He is the sociopathic personification of evil, and he understands that Iago's use of charm, cunning, and kindness makes him all the more sinister. Bosworth owns this play, and in Iago's menacing hands, there is no way for these events to play out besides their inevitable violent end.
Main Photo: Trevor Bissell as Othello
Second Photo: Trevor Bissell as Othello and Laura Kathleen Artesi as Desdemona.
Run time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
OTHELLO plays the City Theatre at 3823 Airport Blvd, Austin, 78722 now thru March 17. Performances are Thursday thru Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5:30pm. Tickets are $15 general admission and $25 reserved seating. General admission is $10 on Thursday evening performances.
For tickets and information, please visit www.citytheatreaustin.org