The Gift’s Interesting Interpretation of Othello
Reviewed by: Melody Udell
Recommended: Theatre In Chicago
When it comes to works of the Bard, Othello is always a solid choice. It’s arguably one of Shakespeare’s most dark, relatable tragedies, with plenty of all-too-human emotions to mine. And the Gift Theatre, offering its first Shakespeare production in its decades-long history, is putting on an out-of-the-box, intimately staged production up on the northwest side.
As the moor of Venice, the well-cast Kareem Bandealy’s Othello transitions from sharp-looking, reputable army general to jealous, enraged husband with ease. He’s in control of his emotions—both interior and exterior—making it difficult to believe he’d ever be brought down by something as petty and all-consuming as jealousy. But as Shakespeare makes clear, jealousy isn’t just a passing emotion—it’s a seed that grows quickly, and irrationally, within even the most secure of hearts. His faux-friend, Iago (Michael Patrick Thorton), has been feeding him lies about Othello’s lovely new wife, Desdemona (Brittany Burch).
But the Gift’s production adds a contemporary element to the play. The actors’ costumes aren’t traditional Shakespeare garb. Instead, we see Desdemona casual dresses and Othello in crisply tailored button downs. The set is geometric yet sparse, and gives the impression that Venice and Cyprus are, in effect, more of a contemporary state of mind. But of all the more modern elements in the Gift’s staging, Shakespeare’s language itself that has been given the most dramatic update. Many of the actors, especially Thornton’s Iago, put a more conversational, sometimes rushed, flourish on their dialogue. Bandealy even offers the audience a deadpan stare—as if daring us to relate to his turmoil—when Othello first hears of Desdemona’s supposed affair with his commander, Cassio (Jay Worthington).
Thornton performs in his wheelchair, which further adds to the show’s contemporary feel, but Thornton’s conversational tone doesn’t fully mine Iago’s truly sinister language. He is, after all, madly jealous of the moor, yet Thornton’s delivery seems to clash with Iago’s desperation. Instead, lines such as, “I do suspect that lusty moor hath leapt into my seat,” don’t quite reach their intended depth.
The complex relationships of the main characters are strengthened by the support cast. Darci Nalepa, playing Iago’s sly yet ultimately loyal wife, is a truly touching Emilia, and Worthington as Cassio is heartbreaking. The show would improve, however, with some well-placed editing—three hours in the Gift’s intimate venue can get quite cramped. But it’s worth a little physical hardship to partake in this updated production of Othello—a boon to the summer’s storefront offerings.
The Gift Theatre’s Othello runs through Sunday, Aug. 24. Tickets can be purchased at 773-283-7071. For more information, visit thegifttheatre.org. For calendar information, TheatreInChicago.com.