A Noise Within Theatre has just wrapped its first run of Othello, Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy of forgotten love.
For those unfamiliar: Othello, a black general of the Venetian army, promotes Cassio to lieutenant instead of his close, faithful friend Iago. This perceived act of betrayal sets Iago off into a jealous frenzy. Othello has secretly married Desdemona, the daughter of a nobleman (noblewoman in this production), and Iago plants the idea of Desdemona’s infidelity into Othello’s head with ultimately fatal consequences.
Director Jessica Kubzansky eschewed setting the production in Venice and Cyprus, instead placing the tale in an environment an audience could actually relate to—today.
Othello and his officers wear US Army military jackets; in the battlefield, they don desert camouflage fatigues and carry guns instead of knives. Contemporary corporate boardrooms replace the courts of Venice. An assistant to a noblewoman dotes at her beck and call, texting on his iPhone hurriedly. Beer pong and techno music are played during a drunken brawl.
By placing the show in the 21st century, Kubzansky’s production asks the audience to consider Othello’s messages in today’s world.
“We’ve seen something similar to Othello during the Obama presidency,” my companion to the show and longtime collaborator Harry Hantel pointed out. “A man constantly forced to justify his power in the face of disrespect and distrust, even though he gained it fairly and with great merit.”
The Wild West nature of the frontlines of war feels especially relevant given some of the shocking stories that have come out of US military bases, Harry also suggested.
In her director’s note, Kubzansky reminds us: “What happens in Othello is happening today, when a Tweet can change an individual’s status, and someone’s good name can be instantly, erroneously, and permanently besmirched.”
The performances of all the players, specifically Michael Manuel’s Iago and Wayne T. Carr’s Othello, are consistently captivating through the almost three-hour run time. If nothing else, Othello is a great draw simply for the expert, technical craftsmanship happening before you.
A Noise Within is the only year-round classical repertory theater company in Southern California. Othello will share the stage with Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie and Mary Zimmerman’s Argonautika. When Othello goes on hiatus (as it currently is), The Glass Menagerie will start showing. And so, back and forth.
ANW features a resident artist company, some of whom are cast in multiple shows at once (Angela Gulner’s Desdemona, for example).
“This creates a kind of artistic muscularity due to the skills required to juggle completely different worlds, approach different time periods and styles, and work with different directors,” according to ANW’s website.
For those who find Shakespeare a slightly less palatable and perhaps intimidating form of entertainment, A Noise Within’s reimagined Othello will feel surprisingly resonant and consumable because of its familiar staging.
Othello will start back up again March 7th through 9th. In the meantime, tickets are available for The Glass Menagerie which starts previews on February 24th.