Revenge! Passion! Lust! Greed!...and Love.
Shakespeare’s great tragedy “Othello” has it all, and the Sacramento Theater Company’s sparkling new production, under director Peggy Shannon serves it well, from the magnificent set designed by Marion Williams, to the powerful performances delivered by the members of the cast.
While the play centers around Othello (Marc Antonio Pritchett), the noble Moor and general in the defense forces, who has just eloped with the lovely Desdemona (Michele Hillen), Act 1 really belongs to Iago (Matt K. Miller), a 17th century Karl Rove who manipulates all action, convinces people to do terrible things and traps them in an intricate web of lies, while all the while feigning innocence and friendship with Othello himself.
Iago is angry because he feels he has been passed over for promotion in favor of young Cassio (Brett Williams) and so he sets in motion an elaborate plot to convince Othello that his young bride has been unfaithful, which ultimately results in the demise of just about everybody.
Miller’s Iago is more mischievous than villainous as he plots to bring down Othello. There is always a smirk on his face and a twinkle hidden somewhere in his eye even while he is doing the most dastardly deeds or expressing his hatred of Othello. It is easy to see why everyone believes him and is taken in by his manipulation. He’s a likeable bad guy.
Iago’s character resonates strongly in this day and age, where jumping to conclusions and acting on those misguided conclusion can have lasting negative effects.
Pritchett is subdued, almost an afterthought, in the first act. His Othello seems to be little more than a prop off of which Iago plays. His love of Desdemona is obvious, though gentle, without any foreshadowing of the rage he will develop in Act 2 at the suspicion that his wife has been dallying with another man.
He comes into his own, however, in Act 2, fulfilling the promise of passions only hinted at in Act 1. He displays genuine anguish at the thought of his wife’s unfaithfulness, and deep remorse following her murder. Pritchett doesn’t exactly take command of the stage so that you center on him, but he has flashes of smoldering intensity.
Desdemona is exquisitely played by Michele Hillen, who gives her a sweet and innocent persona. She exudes a gentle love for Othello. In this production, theirs is a quiet love, not a sizzling passionate love, and she feels true confusion at his later accusations of her infidelity with Cassio (Brett Williams).
Williams is the perfect hero, tall and handsome, intense, and exuding sexuality. His principles crumble when Iago gets him drunk, which results in Othello stripping him of his rank.
Marie Bain turns in a memorable performance as Iago’s wife Amelia, who unwittingly gets drawn into the plot to bring down Othello, yet displays a feisty personality unafraid to stand up to either her husband or to Othello himself.
Brian Rivera is the hapless Roderigo, in love with Desdemona and fooled into thinking Iago is helping him press his suit, while all the while being drawn into Iago’s plot to destroy Othello. Rivera gives his character an endearing gullibility which gives him deep pockets for Iago’s greed.
The atmosphere is aided by the lush costumes of Todd Roehrman and the somber lighting design of Arthur Rotch. Michele Hillen doubled as dance choreographer for the belly dancers, and Marc Antonio Pritchett also choreographed the fight scenes.
While not, perhaps, an “Othello for the ages,” this is a very accessible Othello which will keep one enthralled from start to finish.