BWW Review: OTHELLO at Southwest Shakespeare Company
On this the day of Shakespeare's birthday, I am honored to write about Harlem Shakespeare Festival's All-Female Othello. Up until the 1660s, women were not allowed to act on stage because the practice was illegal and seen as inappropriate. It is not uncommon now to see adaptations of Shakespeare's most famous plays with all female casts. The story of Othello flourishes in the hands of these talented women. This fantastic production highlights the struggle women continue to face at the hands of the patriarchy. Othello takes the word of Iago, the power-hungry, lecherous villain, instead of the word of his wife, Desdemona. By the time the truth comes out, it is too late for Othello, which falls perfectly in line with Shakespeare's other works of tragedy.
As Othello, Debra Ann Byrd is superb. She has a brilliant command of Shakespearean language and displays a passion that is electrifying. Byrd shares a natural chemistry with her fellow actors and has a quiet, commanding grace. As a military leader, Othello is revered by his soldiers and the government. Byrd is every bit the General and has no trouble commanding the attention of the room.
Ella Loudon plays the villain, Iago. Her physicality is stunning. Loudon is also a commanding presence, but in a subtle and sinister fashion. She is cunning and smooth. Iago has the ability to use spontaneous circumstances to his advantage. The brilliance of Loudon's character is that the audience can see her formulating her next move. There were chuckles from the audience every time Iago is referred to as an "honest man".
Cassio is Othello's most trusted Lieutenant who falls from grace under the hands of the conniving Iago. Played by Amy Driesler, Cassio is flippant, but honest. Driesler presents Cassio with confidence and honor. There is no doubt that Cassio will be able to carry on without Othello.
As Desdemona, Natalie Andrews presents the bliss of a newly married woman, which quickly turns into fear and doubt. Andrews understands her role well and moves about the stage with ease. Her maid, Emilia, who is also Iago's wife is played by Megan Lindsay. Emilia's motives are to please her husband, but her loyalty lies with Desdemona. Lindsay shines throughout, but especially in the final scene as the story unravels. Andrews and Lindsay are a wonderful pair.
The supporting cast is magnificent. As Cassio's lover, Bianca, Troi Hall, brings levity and amusement to the show. Ryan Jenkins plays Iago's pawn, Roderigo. Jenkins handles the fight choreography with ease and uses her physicality to her advantage. Kellyn Masters plays Montano, the Governor. Masters lends her support to several scenes and her character exists to provide clarity for the audience. The entire cast is sublimely talented and presents this classic story with reverence and dignity.
Directed by Vanessa Morosco, with live cello music provided by Wei Guo, Othello runs through April 28th at Taliesin West. This production is produced by the Harlem Shakespeare Festival, the New Heritage Theatre Group, and Southwest Shakespeare. A unique opportunity such as this comes along rarely and should not be missed. Tickets can be purchased here.
Photo provided courtesy of Harlem Shakespeare Festival