BWW Review: Profound and Personal OTHELLO Opens at APT this August

Othello-The name speaks to one of William Shakespeare's most acclaimed tragedies first produced in 1603, and has seen thousands of reincarnations, perhaps hundreds of thousands in the past four centuries. How does American Players Theatre (APT) at their Up the Hill venue renew the drama's intense spirit? On an August summer evening, APT stages under John Langs' direction, Andrew Boyce's scenic design and Matthew J. Le Febvre's striking costume design a very intimate and evocaive "Tragedy of the Moor of Venice."

Shakespeare's "Moor of Venice" considers 'a dark skinned man, perhaps from the Barbary Coast," and seen in stark contrast to his beloved wife Desdemona, a young woman with pearl colored skin. This may denote some form of cultural prejudice, and the role has been played by men of various skin colors. APT places the regal Chiké Johnson in the title role, a fitting complement to Laura Rook's lovely and tender fair Desdemona. Their wedding scene opens the play and these actors in elegant white gowns and robes ornamented with pearls present a stunning image to the audience, a study in color contrast, white laid over white and black.

These initial costumes, as throughout the rest of the production, except for Desdemona's and Amelia's beautiful period gowns, might fall somewhere into a futuristic time period. Similar to Boyce's set that depicts rusted and huge metal rods, post-modern columns, placed at angles that pierce the two level wooden stage also surrounded by a moat of water. A fascinating miminal design which could represent a primal, period or apocolyptic setting, somewhat timeless.

Water appears to be a constant symboll, or metaphor, in APT's production because every main character washes themselves with the water except for the villianous Iago. These actions appeared to baptize the characters in a fresh purity--which harkens back to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet being "newly baptized' in love. -or to wash away their blood they had or would shed--perhaps a subtle reference to Macbeth's "Out, damned spot."

Desdemona bathes briefly dressed in a white nightgown before she sleeps on the night she is murdered by her husband. Even Ameilia touches the water because she, too, will die at her husband's hand on that same evening. Othello washes several times, once before he married, he and Desdemona both do, and then, before he stabs himself after her death. Only Iago plunges another face, Roderigo's head, into the water to wash the breath from his life. This interesting element layers profound meaning into the produciton.

in the role of the dishonest, scheming Iago, James Ridge's slight and fit frame conjures the devilish fiend that contrasts the muscular Johnson--an interesting pairng, that so slight a figure can topple these robust commanders in an army. Marcus Truschinski plays the misused Roderigo, while Brain Mani, always a presence on stage, gives Desdemona's father Brabantio a brash prejudiice against her husband and her for marrying an outsider. Creating a Cassio undone and then reinstated, Nate Burger's demeanor and determination discovers a path back into Othello's favor at a high price, althuogh each of these characters plays into Iago's devious plans.

In a stunning second act, the tragedy begins to unfold on a bed laid with the white wedding sheets where Rook's Desdemona and Colleen Madden's captivating Emilia, both sing a lullaby/lament forehadowing their demise that echoes a haunting tune with the words "willow, willow.," Desdemona sleeps in peace waiting for the jealous Othello while the fighting pf others surrounds her on stage. This interesting juxtaposition of combat and a sweet night's rest for those waitng at home occurs in every war zone, a chilling stage effect. When the love sick Othello finally appears over the peaceful Desdemona and then says, "I will kill thee and love thee after," the scene can be spellibinding while these marvelous actors create this personal drama that enthralls the theater. The audience remained in a reverent silence the entire second act, an evening when only the cicadas could disturb the night's performance.

in the aftermath of revisiting Shakespeare's Othello, the warning beware of jealousy, 'the green-eyed monster," has become well-known. Or how Othello believes, 'is unnatural that kills for loving...or [I] loved not wisely, but too well" can also be echoed. However, the relationships between good and evil mark the entire script whether between countries and warriors, friends and family, or partners/lovers. Shakespeare asks his audience to believe pure evil of a demoic nature exists opposed to the forces of good, or heaven, a cruel hate versus innocent love at war at any moment. Then, Shakespeare says be wary of what hate triggers in the human spirit when unleashed without temperance in patience or goodness, on the battlefield or on the private home front.

The intensely intimate, personal and profound APT Othello presents a compelling dichotomy to the balance of good and evil tin life that floods the mind like water breaking through a damn, even while the actual water in the moat remains contained on stage. APT'S audience reminded how destructive hate can be and to wash these thoughts with renewed affirmation that uncovers goodness and love in their personal lives. With the promise of instilling love's power in place of hate into the world before more innocent people die, this 2015 Othello will linger in memory long after the summer season's final performance.

American Players Theatre presents Shakespeare's Othello at Spring Green's Up the Hill Theater through the 2015 summer season. For information, performance schedules, special events and tickets, please call: 608.588.2361 or visit

Zoey's Playlist on NBC

Related Articles View More Milwaukee, WI Stories   Shows

From This Author Peggy Sue Dunigan