Cal Shakes' Othello

Jealous husband kills wife. Or, newly married husband starts suspecting his wife. Tragedy ensues. The plot of Othello can be summed up briefly. But, as with all classics, that's not necessarily the most interesting part. The fascination comes in seeing how exactly do we get from the beginning to the end i.e. how does a man flush with power and love lose it all so quickly? Enter Iago (and a certain handkerchief)! Cal Shake's Othello starts fast and furious and takes no prisoners in its nearly two and a half hours running time. Director Sean Daniels has set the play in a non specific early 20th century future reminiscent of Ian Mckellen's Richard III. There are guns but it is daggers that do the killing. The cast is uniformly excellent with Bruce Mckinzie as Iago providing a particularly indefatigable performance. However, Billy Eugene Jones as the titular Othello more than holds his own and Catherine Castellano provides a particularly memorable turn as Emilia. Mention must also be made of the sound design which subtly augments the onstage emotions except when it breaks into full blown songs. The stage itself is stark, relying on a split level structure and two gantries that also double as light towers. Because of the open amphitheater setting, there are no stage curtains. Extras swap furniture in and out rapidly in keeping with the frenetic pace of the play. Afterwards, I heard other audience members commenting on the lucidity of the language - I too was very impressed at how the cast were able to bring the words to life with such vividness. Shakespeare understood that violence and sex (especially the forbidden kind) sells and statements such as

Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is topping your white ewe


I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.
leave little to the imagination and here they were delivered with the gusto they deserved. A particular audience favorite had Emilia sighing:
'Tis not a year or two shows us a man: They are all but stomachs, and we all but food; To eat us hungerly, and when they are full, They belch us.

Hey, this play is staged with the Berkeley Hills as the backdrop! What else would you expect? Somehow, as the play went on from light into dark, the cold air brought out the chills as Othello danced with Desdemona dead against his shoulder. A gorgeous setting for such a wonderful production. It was a night to remember.

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- June 10, 2005 12:50 AM // Review , Theater