Sunday, April 13, 2014

othello at portland center stage

The plan was to stop at the store on the way home after seeing Othello, Friday night, at the Gerding Theater. When the time came, Stephen and I were in such deep discussion about the play that we didn't realize until we'd parked the car, ridden the escalator and stepped inside, that we'd gone to the wrong store.

Shakespeare. I'll admit he scares me a little. I'm always afraid I'll be totally confused by the language and the
large casts of characters whose faces I can't possibly remember, and of course  I can't just do what I always do and pause the movie and ask Stephen, "Wait, who's that guy?" Friday night I did what I always do with Shakespeare, spend half of the first act worrying that I'm lost - which usually makes me more lost. But somewhere in there I realized. I know what's going on. That guy's Othello and she's Desdemona, and that bald one's the bad guy... 

Iago. One of the most notorious bad guys in the history of bad guys. The silver tongued deceiver in this story of treachery, jealousy and murder. At intermission, Stephen said he'd expected Iago to be different - tall and sleek, more an image of the icon that is the bad guy. I got what he was saying but said I thought bad guys, even iconic ones, came in lots of shapes and sizes. "Like the pipsqueak bad guy," I said. "That's one. The pipsqueak bad guy is an icon in itself."

Gavin Hoffman as Iago

Not that Gavin Hoffman's Iago is a pipsqueak, but the comment got us to talking about the nature of bad guys. And ever since seeing the play, that's been on my mind - one of the questions Othello seems to be asking: what makes one a bad guy? Iago is guilty as sin, yes, but who else is culpable? The tortured, manipulated and, ultimately, mad Othello? The obsessed and deceived Roderigo? How about Emilia, who picks up the fated handkerchief? Even Cassio and Desdemona - what responsibility do they own for what goes down in this story?

Gavin Hoffman's Iago is a master at using the fourth wall. And not only when he's delivering a monologue. There are other times when he looks directly at the audience, as if willing us to look in at ourselves, at our own deceptions and our own jealousies.

Dana Green as Emilia, Nikki Coble and Desdemona,
and Daver Morrison as Othello

The set of Portland Center Stage's Othello is pretty spectacular. One huge piece that revolves on a turntable - and they use that turntable very deftly for dramatic effect. A moment when Othello pauses before entering Desdemona's bedroom is especially effective.

Timothy Sekk as Cassio and Leif Norby as Roderigo

For me, there were two stand-out performances. One was Leif Norby as Roderigo. You only get to see the back of his head in the above photograph, but he's also the "Fight Captain," so in a way, you're getting more Leif than you think in that picture. He's also a fantastic actor who Stephen and I have been following for a good while. He's very versatile and a great mix of satisfyingly theatrical and very, very real. My favorite kind of acting.

The other is Dana Green as Emilia. Pretty magnificent. In every scene she's in, she's interesting to watch - very particular but not to the point that it's too much - and then when the show is coming to its climax, she delivers something incredible. She is fierce, broken open, unapologetically apologetic. Her performance alone in that scene is worth the price of admission.

I could talk about some of the lovely directorial choices at the very end, but that would be too much for my spoiler radar. I'll just say that I think director Chris Coleman made some very elegant choices - throughout, actually - about what to leave in and what to leave out, about how the actors were used within that beautiful set, about how that fourth wall was used. There's a lot of humor in this production - and lots to think about after you leave the theater and go shopping at the wrong store.

Portland Center Stage's Othello is playing at the Gerding Theater, now through May 11. More information is here.

Thank you to Patrick Weishampel for the photographs.

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