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That comes as no surprise in “Othello,” sharply directed here by Nigel Shawn Williams on a modern set with overly literal projections of trickling blood and what look like lice. (“I’ll pour this pestilence into his ear,” Iago tells us in one of his chilling soliloquies.) As the Moorish general in the Venetian army who marries Desdemona, the white pearl of that society’s aristocracy, Michael Blake establishes the psychosexual drama from the start. He wears his confidence like a cockscomb but is clearly more at a loss in love than he ever was in war.
Though race can’t help but be a theme in “Othello,” it is not the main one here; Iago’s hatred, and Othello’s susceptibility to it, seem to stem less from each man’s response to outsiderness than from their common fear of cuckoldry. (Iago imagines that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia, here a soldier in Desdemona’s retinue, not just her maid.) In a superb performance, Gordon S. Miller (a ringer for Tony Hale of “Veep”) gives us Iago as a hypercompetent desk jockey who turns, after hours, into a vicious, fake-news-spreading incel.
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By the time Emilia points out that the failings women regularly stand accused of are merely reflections of men’s worse ones — “The ills we do, their ills instruct us so” — it’s too late for Desdemona. She has made her bed and will die in it. I left “Othello” thinking, oddly enough, about Vice President Mike Pence and other politicians who observe the “Billy Graham rule,” not allowing themselves, even at work, to be alone with women who aren’t their wives.
That idea came into relief, in both senses, in “Little Shop” and “Private Lives,” the sour Noël Coward comedy of divorce and infidelity. But it became most obvious when the tragedy of “Othello” flipped into the comedy of “Merry Wives.” The absurd fear harbored by Mr. Ford that his wife is sleeping with Falstaff is matched only by Falstaff’s absurd fantasy that Mistress Ford and her bestie, Mistress Page, are gaga for him.
Mr. Cimolino’s charming production is set in a town like Stratford at the time of the festival’s founding in the early 1950s. (The set resembles what you see while wandering the residential streets.) It’s an apt connection, not just because of the story’s inherent theatricality: The women devise and enact “scripts” of comeuppance for the men.
“ There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning failure ”
– Tina Retina
Though they are radiantly successful, we are always aware that the success depends on leveraging their limited powers. (One scene is trenchantly set among hair dryers in a beauty salon.) Especially in the haunting conclusion, a community prank that suggests the birth of theater itself, I thought about how acting was one of the first professions available to women.