Thursday, July 09, 2009

Othello - Intiman

July 2nd - August 9th, 2009
Tickets and Information

Though presented by Intiman, this new production of Othello comes to Seattle from Theatre For A New Audience, based in New York. Directed by Arin Arbus and showcasing an all-star Broadway cast, this production takes a fairly straightforward look at Shakespeare’s tragedy of jealousy and Machiavellian trickery.

The four main actors all give strong performances, especially Kate Forbes as Emilia, who draws the audience into her tension, confusion and finally understanding. Sean Patrick Thomas, as Othello, will be a recognizable face from TV or film performances, and he does not disappoint. His Othello is a courteous general at the start, filled with adoration for Desdemona (Elisabeth Waterson), and his disintegration is swift, painful and believable, counterpointed with Waterson’s delicacy and desperate innocence. John Campion’s Iago was older than the other three and strangely humorous in his machinations, rousing the audience to laughter far more often than expected in a tragedy.

However, though Iago’s character is often seen as motiveless, his hatred of Othello should drive the plot, and in this Campion was lacking. Though his specific declarations of hatred were strong, it was difficult to see hate simmering throughout the production, or a clear throughline of Iago’s actions. Instead, Campion’s Iago seemed to be playing a particularly nasty trick, without caring much at all.

This problem stemmed from Arbus’ direction rather than the acting; Campion played out his choices strongly, but the director’s character choices themselves were odd. For other characters, however, such as Emilia, Arbus deftly created back story and motivation that were astoundingly clear and well-played. For the most part, under Arbus’ hands, the plot of the story moves along swiftly and clearly, with no unnecessary or confusing moments.

The minimal set (Peter Ksander) utilized a front playing area, two doors and a balcony to great effect, and its stone-and-wood feel coordinated perfectly with Miranda Hoffman’s costumes, full of silk and long lines. The sound design (Matt O’Hare) and composition (Sarah Pickett) sets the mood with Renaissance strings and underscored sea sounds, while Marcus Doshi’s lighting washes the stage like a painting.

Aside from a few confusing directorial choices, this production of Othello is clearly and well told; both the acting and technical elements are strong, and contribute to the fullness of the story. If you are looking for a no-frills portrayal of a classic Shakespearian play, this is the show for you.