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Othello plays at Guthrie Theater

| Friday, February 27, 2004

The tragic story of “Othello” comes to Saint Mary’s College this weekend as the Guthrie Theater presents its production of one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays. “Othello” tells the story of a Venetian general who has just wed the daughter of a wealthy senator, Barbantio. Barbantio strongly objects to his daughter, Desdemona’s, marriage to a minority, but war calls Othello away to the island of Cyprus to battle the Turks and he and Desdemona leave. One of Othello’s soldiers, Iago, is bitterly angry with Othello for naming another solider, Cassio, to the position of Lieutenant instead of him. He devises a plan to get Cassio fired and to have Othello’s wife, Desdemona, plead for his job. In the process, Iago plants the seed of jealousy in Othello’s mind and the moor beings a vengeful tirade to uncover the truth.The feature role of the play is obviously that of Othello, the general who is driven mad with jealously. The role of Othello probably boasts the largest record of A-list actors in all of Shakespeare. Acting greats such as Laurence Fishburne, Patrick Stewart, and Laurence Olivier have left their mark on the role throughout the decades, and Lester Purry does not disappoint in the Guthrie production. Purry brings a fury and frailty that is often missed by actors in the role. Many actors simply play the moor as stout and angry throughout the play, but Purry offers just the right touch of emotional weakness to show that Othello’s seemingly over-the-top rage is simply a cover for his weak emotional state. At the onset of the play, he is completely smitten by his love, and her will often clouds his judgment. Shakespeare wrote the character of Othello in a similar fashion to the character of Hamlet. Both brood, contemplate and drive themselves mad on the inside. The difference with Othello is that he has less control over his emotions, and acts much more rashly on them. This lack of control stems primarily from the fact that he has already received such hostility all his life due to being a minority. Purry truly breaks down under the weight of his wife’s supposed infidelity, and his anger comes more out of desperation than from pride. It would be easy to identify Purry’s timing and delivery as being derived from the acting of Samuel L. Jackson, but most likely it is the case that Jackson has taken a few tips from Shakespeare in his approach to his roles.Bill McCallum plays Iago, the evil conspirator who seeks revenge on Othello for denying him his position as Lieutenant. McCallum truly has a large task in bringing to life the several long soliloquies that Iago has as he stands alone onstage. He adds great depth to his asides and monologues that not only clearly inform the audience of what Iago is thinking, but also keep their attention throughout. McCallum uses timing to clearly identify both the humorous and the ironic lines that are so prevalent in “Othello.” He is evil to the audience but saintly to the characters, and he does not fall into the trap of letting his evil side seep through in his interactions with other characters. Cheyenne Casebier plays Desdemona, the wife of Othello. While her initial scenes tend to be a little weak, she shows tremendous chemistry with Purry. The two really seem to be in love; another trait missing from many other productions where Othello is played as cold and stubborn. Kris L. Nelson has a strong supporting role in that of Roderigo, companion to Iago. He plays the role as slightly goofy, but always offers tremendous balance when having to compete with the vivid portrayal of Iago. It is certainly a role that can be overpowered by Iago, but Nelson holds his own beautifully.Virginia S. Burke plays Emilia, wife to Iago and caretaker of Desdemona. While her role is very small for the majority of the play, she erupts as the source of moral truth during the death scene. Shakespeare always enjoyed putting the source of morality in the most common character, and Burke commands the stage during the climax of the play.”Othello” is being produced by the Guthrie Theater, a company originating in Minneapolis/St. Paul that has brought stage productions to the Upper Midwest for 40 years. It has a season of 11 plays, playing on their main stage, second stage and on tour. They also work very closely with area students in the locations they tour to, and help in commissioning high school productions and B.F.A. actor training programs. Their recent tour is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, a program to bring Shakespeare to small cities around America. The program was started by Jack Valenti, CEO of the Motion Picture Association of America, and First Lady Laura Bush to help spread Shakespeare’s works to over 100 cities across the country.”Othello” is a stirring work of jealousy, lies, and murder. The Guthrie Theater offers a tremendously professional production that highlights fantastic actors with Broadway caliber sets, lighting, and music. It is truly the best Shakespeare experience to come to South Bend all year.

“Othello” plays at the O’Laughlin Auditorium at Saint Mary’s College tonight at 7, Saturday at 2 and 8, and Sunday at 2. Tickets are $25.50 for adults, $23.50 for seniors, $20.50 for the ND/SMC community, and $12 for students and family at the 2pm matinees. For tickets, call the St. Mary’s Box Office at 574-284-4626.