Gossip, treachery and lack of communication kill love in 'Othello'
If only Othello and Desdemona had cell phones and anger management classes, perhaps their marriage -- and their lives -- wouldn’t have ended so badly.
Where: Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park
When: 8 p.m. nightly, except Tuesdays. Previews: May 23-24; regular run May 25-June 17
How much: Free
“Why does Cassio have handkerchief I gave u?” Othello might have texted his wife instead of believing this guy named Iago, who told Othello that Desdemona gave it to Othello’s lieutenant, herself.
Othello eventually kills Desdemona, thinking that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. Then, upon learning of her innocence, Othello falls on his own sword.
But despite the violence, Shakespeare Festival’s “Othello," presented in Forest Park May 23-June 17, is at its core a tale of two people who are crazy about each other, according to director Bruce Longworth.
“Othello and Desdemona love each other beyond expression, and they are tremendous together, so it is a tragic story of what happens to the two of them,” Longworth said.
Give a guy a break
Othello’s really more of gullible guy than a bad boy, according to New York actor Billy Eugene Jones, who plays the title character. A Moor, or someone of African descent and therefore an outsider in Venice, Othello is just too trusting, especially of Iago (played by Justin Blanchard), Jones said.
“Othello’s someone who believed someone else who was not honest with him, and he’s never had that happen before -- and that’s what his downfall is, and that’s what makes him human” Jones said.
Jones’ Broadway credits include “A Raisin in the Sun,” “Passing Strange” and also “The Mountaintop,” in which the Yale School of Drama graduate was the understudy for the role of Martin Luther King Jr.
With Shakespeare Festival’s “Othello,” Jones is taking on a role that’s been filled by such legendary actors as James Earl Jones, Laurence Fishburne and Paul Robeson. He’s not worried about comparisons, though, and said he just has to “get out there and do my best.” Plus, it’s not his first crack at the character; he played Othello at Yale.
“As a black actor in particular, if you’re lucky enough, you’re going to play Othello a few times,” Jones said. “And each time will be different because they will set it in a different time period and the other actors will be different, and that's going to cause you to play the role differently and to grow and develop as an actor.”
Strong woman ‘blinded by love’
Heather Woods, who earned her B.A. in theater from Saint Louis University before receiving her MFA in acting at Brown University, is also excited about her role as Desdemona. Having recently inhabited such Chekhov characters as Irina in “Three Sisters” at the Yale Rep and Nina in “The Seagull” at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, Wood is accustomed to plays with less-than-happy endings.
“Othello” is an intense story with many difficult and draining scenes, Wood said. But her favorite focuses on what she called a sweet moment in which Desdemona is trying to convince Othello to make peace with a soldier with whom he’s had an argument.
“As she works her womanly charms, you get to see their dynamic; they really do have this kind of cute, sweet flirtatious relationship,” Wood said.
Wood also sees a refreshing maturity and gutsiness in Desdemona, which contrasts to the wide-eyed innocents she’s recently portrayed.
“Desdemona is not necessarily blinded by innocence; she’s blinded by love and faith and loyalty,” Wood said. “She’s a strong woman and she stands up for herself and to Othello.”
Perhaps Desdemona’s strength will inspire Wood in her own goal to tackle something she’s never done before while she’s back in town for “Othello.”
“I never did the Arch in college because I have a very horrible fear of heights,” Wood said. “But I may force myself to go up into the Arch this time.”