In his early 17th century play Othello, Shakespeare coined the phrase “green-eyed monster.” The phrase, used to describe jealousy, enjoys popular use to this day, and refers to one of humankind’s most irrational, yet common, emotions. Similarly, theatre companies remount Othello year after year, attempting to refresh and rejuvenate the timeless tale of jealousy and madness.
Unfortunately, director Alison Darcy’s interpretation, in collaboration with the Segal Centre and Scapegoat Carnivale Theatre, dwells too much on the play’s obviously tragic elements—Suicide! Adultery! Racism!—instead of the emotions leading up to them. As a result, the play ends up feeling overwrought and superficial.
For example, Othello’s lead actor, Andrew Moodie, who in limited moments portrays the play’s titular character with sensitivity and heart, spends three quarters of the prodution yelling somewhat hoarsely and gesturing too obviously, instead of drawing the audience in and connecting with his character on a deeper level. Consequently, it’s often difficult to identify with Othello, and, strangely, to feel any true grief when he is completely ruined at the end of the tragedy.
Sean Arbuckle, who plays Iago—the conniving mastermind who convinces Othello that his wife Desdemona is committing adultery, and effectively leads him on a path of devastating jealousy—portrays his role just as shallowly as Moodie. Specifically, the reasons behind his betrayal of the master he once admired are not fully clear—and this was not because Shakespeare omitted them from the script.
Arbuckle also prances around the stage in an irritating elf-like manner during many parts of the play. Unsurprisingly, this becomes rather distracting and takes away from some of the lines he delivers with adequate menace, as well as the sick, evil aspects of Iago’s character.
It appears, then, that these interpretations are the result of Darcy’s directorial choices, and not necessarily those of the main actors. Unfortunately, Darcy’s vision often falls flat—at least with the male characters of the play.
Female leads Amanda Lisman and Julie Tamiko Manning, as Desdemona and Emilia, respectively, redeem the production—to a certain extent—with their intelligent, nuanced interpretations of the unfortunate wives of Othello and Iago.
Although Desdemona’s anti-feminist characteristics leave much to be desired, Lisman plays her sympathetically. As a result her death is much more affecting to watch than that of her easily duped husband.
This production also highlights the reciprocal friendship between Desdemona and Emilia, and in doing so breathes new life into two characters who could easily be forgotten.
After reading the play’s program notes, it appears that Darcy wished to emphasize the symbolic importance of water in the play, and particularly its mercurial, shifting properties. Much like water can change from calm to destructive in a short period of time, Othello does so over the course of the play.
However, the only way this symbolism clearly manifests itself is in a bizarre deluge of water that covers the stage during Desdemona’s death scene and thereafter. Although this use of theatrical special effects lends the play an updated, modern edge, it seems unjustified; the water’s symbolism is not emphasized enough throughout the play to be effective.
In fact, during another scene, when a blue light facing down on the stage is meant to represent a pool of water, some characters realistically navigate around it, while others walk directly through it, completely eradicating its crucial symbolism.
Overall, it is this inconsistency that plagues this production of Othello from its very first scene, and prevents its audience from being entirely drawn into the depths of the play’s—usually—passionate betrayal.
Othello is being performed at the Segal Centre (5170 Côte St. Catherine) until Dec. 1 at various times listed at www.segalcentre.org. Tickets start at $24.