Sunday, May 27, 2007


....It is the green-ey'd monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on."

One of Shakespeare's most ironic lines in Othello mouthed by the villanous Iago who while warning Othello of the perils of jealousy also plants in him a dangerous doubt which in time will metamorphose into a monster to consume and wreck them all.

This emotionally wrenching and heartbreaking play was again brought to life at this season's rendition of Othello by Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival.

The play starts with Iago (Karl Hanover) declaring his hatred for Othello (played by Brian Wilson), a Moor general of the Venetian forces. This hatred is further spurred by Othello's favoring of young Cassio (Damon Bonetti) over Iago for promotion. Iago then sets about plotting revenge by ruining Cassio's reputation in the eyes of Othello, and manipulationg Othello to believe that his wife, the sweet and beautiful Desdemona (Christie Parker) is betraying him with Cassio. Othello seized with furious rage and jealousy smothers his wife dead. When the truth is finally revealed by Iago's wife Emilia (Teresa Castracane), Othello filled with overwhelming sorrow and remorse, kills himself.

Othello's fatal flaw was his jealousy. I have often wondered how the play would be received had Othello been unrepentent after Desdemona's murder. Would he then be called a skunk and no tragic hero! Is rage and jealousy more forgivable than meanness?

Shakespeare based his Othello on a story by the Italian poet Giovanni Battista Giraldi . Giraldi's Hecatommithi had several short stories of which two (Othello and Measure for Measure) had influenced Shakespeare. In Giraldi's plot, the Moor is unrepentent and together with the Iago equivalent escapes justice.

Director Carmen Khan, who has been at the helm of the Festival for the past decade, guides another magnificant performance. The two pillars of the play, the mean yet mischievous streak in Iago and Othello's passion and emotion in love and jealousy, were particularly powerful and dynamic. It was also touching to watch Desdemona's sweet and soft demeanour and Emilia's devotion to her, particularly in the scene where she prepares Desdemona for bed.

Khan's productions always boast of unusual props and here they were in the form of rectangular boxes serving diverse functions as tables for a drunken brawl,a pulpit for Othello and Iago, and a ship for the Venetians.

These also served as the bed where Othello throttles Desdemona and later kills himself out of repentence. Although I would have preferred him unrepentent. But a hero is allowed only one fatal flaw.


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