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BWW Interviews: Sassy Cassio - Getting to know OTHELLO's John Catron

BWW Interviews: Sassy Cassio - Getting to know OTHELLO's John Catron

Shakespeare's great tragedy OTHELLO is an epic of sweeping passions and murderous ambition - an electric mind game of doubt, jealousy and misplaced trust masterminded by one of literature's most seductively manipulative villains: Iago. Directed by Tony and Drama Desk Award nominee and Obie Award winner Marion McClinton, best-known for his Broadway and regional productions of August Wilson's plays, this devastating story examines issues of cultural diversity, race, betrayal, and the complexities of ambition and trust. This marks the first production in nearly two decades of Shakespeare's classic on the Guthrie's signature thrust stage.

Actor John Catron plays Cassio in the production. His past Guthrie productions include UNCLE VANYA, LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT, HAY FEVER, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE WINTER'S TALE AND THE MASTER BUTCHERS SINGING CLUB. Minneapolis got to know Catron, and his Cassio, a little better:

BWW: Tell us a little about your background -- where are you from originally? What's your training? What is Minneapolis like as an actor compared to other places you've worked?

JC: I grew up in the Twin Cities and then attended Grinnell College (in Grinnell, Iowa) for my undergraduate studies. While attending Grinnell I was lucky enough to study at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center (Waterford, Conn.) through the National Theater Institute program, as well as the St. Petersburg State Theater Arts Academy (Russia). After college I spent a season at Actors Theater of Louisville in the apprentice program and then a few years devising work with some friends of mine in North Carolina. I moved back to Minneapolis in 2006. Being an actor in MSP has been great for me. This place is brimming with great actors, companies large and small, and devoted theater-goers.

BWW: Have you done OTHELLO and played Cassio previously? If so, what's different about this production?

JC: Yes, I've played Cassio once before. I think this time around I'm more interested in his flaws than previously. I hope he's charming, but I think his ambition and silver spoon have isolated him. He doesn't have many close friends.

BWW: What is your take on Cassio? Is he clueless about his part in the happenings?

JC: Is Cassio aware of Iago's machinations? No. He overlooks some clues that are right in front of his face. Literally! He's too self-involved to see Iago's web.

BWW: What caused Iago to be against him?

JC: You'll have to ask Stephen Yoakam that!

Stephen Yoakam and John Catron as Iago and Cassio in Guthrie Theater's OTHELLO. By Joan Marcus
Stephen Yoakam (Iago) and John Catron (Cassio) in OTHELLO at the Guthrie Theater.

BWW: Cassio treats Bianca pretty poorly -- is he just using her? Does he have feelings for her at all?

JC: Cassio is not in love with Bianca, not as devoted to her as she is to him. There's a great deal of social structure between them, too, but I think it's more that he enjoys being the beloved. He doesn't have the gumption to end their relationship even though he knows he doesn't love her. It feels too good to be loved.

BWW: Why is Cassio so upset at having been drunk in the presence of Othello?

JC: It's more than just having been drunk. Left in charge as Othello enjoys his first real night with his new bride (wink, wink), Cassio starts a petty drunken brawl with his fellow soldiers in the middle of the night in a town that's been under the threat of invasion. If I was Othello, I'd be pissed off!

BWW: This was a pretty straightforward period production of OTHELLO. Do you prefer Shakespeare plays to be done in the original period or do you like to experiment with setting the story in other times?

JC: As long as I trust the director, I'm game to follow whatever concept he or she may have in mind.

BWW: How was it working with Marion McClinton? What was his process like?

JC: This was my third production working with Marion and I'd be happy to sign up for my fourth. Though I think it's an oversimplification of his process, he once described it to me like this: "One: cast well. Two: get the fuck outta the way." Marion trusts actors. He loves watching actors work. He was an actor. His shaping of the play is always informed by those things.

BWW: What's next for you after OTHELLO?

JC: A couple weeks of rest, then I start rehearsals for THE HEIRESS at The Jungle Theater, directed by Bain Boelke. I'm lucky enough to be playing Morris Townsend opposite one of my favorite actors in the world, Kate Guentzel (who also happens to be my wife).

BWW: What is your dream role?

JC: That changes every couple weeks. I'd love to do Macbeth somewhere down the road. Last year I played Jamie in Joe Dowling's LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and I had a blast, so I guess I'd like to revisit that character in A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN. And Clov. I'd love to play Clov.

BWW: What has your favorite role been so far in your career? Why is it?

JC: My favorites are the ones that really challenge me. Last spring I did Enda Walsh's one-man show, MISTERMAN. I don't think I've ever worked harder.

Catch Catron on the Wurtele Thrust Stage in OTHELLO through April 20, 2014. Single tickets start at $24 and are on sale through the Guthrie Box Office at 612.377.2224, toll-free 877.44.STAGE,612.225.6244 (Group Sales) and online at Here's a scene from the play, courtesy of the Guthrie Theater:

Photo credit (above): John Catron in the Guthrie's production of OTHELLO by William Shakespeare. Directed by Marion McClinton, set design by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, costume design by ESOSA and lighting design by Michael Wangen. March 8 - April 20, 2014 on the Wurtele Thrust Stage at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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Kristen Hirsch Montag Kristen Hirsch Montag is a public relations/media rep for Meet Minneapolis, Convention and Visitors Association by day and self-professed theatre geek by night. She regularly attends Minneapolis and Saint Paul productions and touring shows. She's been known to act in a few, as well. As an actress, she's done stage, film and TV projects and fits them in whenever possible. Kristen holds a bachelor's degree from Augsburg College in Theatre Arts and Communications.

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