Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 7, 2009


Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through September 6, 2009
by Karolina Sadowicz

To the Venetians resisting a Turkish invasion, Othello is primarily a weapon. As played by John Douglas Thompson, the Moor of Venice is a force: calm, even benevolent at first, but revealing a barely containable tempest of a man when faced with jealousy and doubt. Thompson commands respect for his polished Othello, and, even when welcome, stands out as a clear outsider to the ensemble of characters.

Othello's foil and villain, Iago (Michael Hammond) is his true opposite. Where Othello is stately, humble, and restrained, Iago is coarse, deceitful, and unabashedly self-centered. The greatest strength of Hammond's performance is his charm. Iago is unrelenting in his pursuit of revenge, but he is also very charming, funny, and often likeable. Hammond's ability to warm up the audience to the villain highlights his cold cruelty in the end.

Staged with simplicity common to this season's offerings, "Othello" makes the most of a set that hints at specific surroundings and allows the beautifully costumed actors to paint a more vivid picture. Light and music are used effectively to this end and enhance the atmosphere and drama.

The actors all embody their characters, even multiple ones, and are equally convincing as a group of politicians talking war strategy or a rowdy band of drunken soldiers. Duane Allen Robinson is a suave, dynamic standout as Cassio, second in command to Othello and suspected lover to his wife Desdemona, played with refreshing toughness by Merritt Janson. Ryan Winkles as Roderigo is hilariously and poignantly sympathetic as Iago's patsy.

In this production full of Shakespeare & Company regulars, the script is fresh and punchy. The characters are thoroughly developed and their sincerity and honesty make them all easy prey to Iago. The torture of Othello, a man made in the world of war, by doubts that gnaw at his basest parts, builds steadily into a spectacular defeat that feels like watching a dark, private moment. It's difficult to look away. Captivating to the last moment, "Othello" is a study of human darkness and weakness, and will linger in the viewer's thoughts after the final bow.