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BWW Review: Southwest Shakespeare's OTHELLO Is A Tour De Force

Devilry is in the deed, and the face of its perpetrator may be disarmingly cool and calculated rather than sinister and contorted. The evil may come from the least expected quarter for the most incomprehensible if not mundane of reasons.

Jesse James Kamps proves the point with a chilling and convincing portrayal of Iago, the quintessential villain, in Southwest Shakespeare Company's electrifying production of OTHELLO. The object of his inflictions is the Moor (Hope Brown) who has bypassed him for a promotion and selected Iago's less than qualified cohort, Cassio (Wyatt Kent). The slight is enough to mobilize Iago into a cycle of deceits that ensnares old comrades and dooms Othello's wife, Desdemona (Amanda Renee Baker).

Once again, Southwest Shakespeare Company's mastery in interpreting the Bard's work is on display. In this intelligently and innovatively conceived edition of OTHELLO, which opens the Company's annual Winterfest Repertory, director Harold Dixon exposes the heart of Iago's darkness with a lightness that defies the gravity usually associated with the play. Dixon's unique lens sharpens the contrast between the main characters and magnifies the ensuing tragedy.

On the one hand, Kamps' Iago first appears as an aggrieved and mischievous ~ almost laughable ~ rogue whose misguided effort to embarrass his general becomes an unstoppable snowball of duplicity. As his machinations unwind, Iago is trapped in the web of his own making.

Hope Brown delivers a compelling performance as Othello, whose self-important strut limpens as he is persuaded by Iago that Desdemona has betrayed his love. His jealousy and despair reach a crescendo when he discovers Iago's deceit and the price he has paid for taking the bait. At this moment, Brown commands the stage with an explosive and gut-wrenching soliloquy of remorse.

Amanda Renee Baker presents Desdemona as the Moor's poised and loyal wife. When, in the final act, Desdemona begs Othello for her life, Baker reveals the vulnerability and sensuality that must first have caught Othello's heart.

Jordan Letson shines as Emilia, Iago's wife. She is the key to the rogue's undoing. When she realizes the depth of Iago's betrayal, her loyalty unravels and her fury is unbound. Letson's intensity is stunning and heart-rending.

Patrick Walsh drapes the stage with elegant simplicity. Daniel Davisson illuminates it with subtle and shifting mood lighting. Maci Hosler's Venetian period costumes are exquisite.

This masterfully produced and well-acted OTHELLO continues its 13-performance run (rotating with A COMEDY OF ERRORS) at the Mesa Arts Center's Virginia G. Piper Repertory Theater through January 30th.

Photo credit to Southwest Shakespeare Company

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