A Riveting Othello From Titan Theatre Company
By Georgina Young-Ellis
Photos Lloyd Mulvey
Shakespeare on overdrive is how I would describe Titan Theatre Company’s rocket-fueled production of Othello, currently on the boards at Queens Theatre. From the first second of this fascinating, all female concept, the audience is grabbed by the throat and propelled forward for a full-throttle ride.
Othello is a familiar story to most people: the tale of how the dark-skinned Moor, Othello, is driven mad with jealousy by the insinuations of his right-hand man, Iago, that his fair and virtuous newly-wedded wife, Desdemona, is cheating on him with his loyal lieutenant, Cassio. This is one of those plays that makes you want to scream at the characters to choose any other path than the one they ultimately do. However, it is a tragedy and, therefore, the ending catapults towards its inevitable conclusion, which is that pretty much everybody dies. Titan’s version somehow manages to heighten the emotion and sexuality of the story even more with the use of the all female cast. Interestingly, there’s no explanation for why director Lenny Banovez chose this interpretation, so we are left on our own to imagine. I theorized that the world of the play was a kind of Amazonian society where men simply did not exist, and thus the word “husband” was changed for “wife”, “he/him” for “she/her,” etc., though there was still some use of “Lord” and “Sir.” The only time this became confusing for me was when a character was referring to someone by pronoun only, and I didn’t have the assistance of the male pronouns to help me delineate who they were talking about, which only made me have to listen more carefully and pay closer attention—never a bad thing.
The actors are outstanding, each and every one. Leah Dutchin as Othello is a rock-hard force, Laura Frye as Iago and Leah Gabriel as Roderigomasculine and intimidating. Though likeable at the start, her character grows more and more pitiable as the play progresses. The actress’s emotions are never forced, however, but easily tapped, right on the surface like exposed nerve-endings. Iago, played by Laura Frye, is evil incarnate without any melodrama. Frye’s brilliant performance lets us clearly see why the other characters in the play like Iago and believe her lies. Only her astute wife, Emilia, played by Deanna Gibson, is able to see through her cunning. Toward the end, her confrontation with Iago is so wrenching, people in the audience around me were gasping and sobbing. Of course, by that point, we were already raw, having gone through the horrifying murder of Desdemona, played by Emily Trask. Her character is portrayed as sweet without being cloying, innocent, without childishness, and therefore Desdemona’s death is all the more upsetting, a moment just as shocking as anything a Hollywood movie could produce with all its special effects. The stage combat throughout Othello, as a matter of fact, choreographed by Jonathan Hicks, is perfection. There is no fake blood, or gimmicks, just excellent skill and commitment all around. Thankfully, Leah Gabriel, as Rodrigo, provides some delightful comic relief, though her character’s ultimate end is just as powerful as the others’. Suffice it to say that the ensemble is masterful and each actor contributes with one hundred percent dedication to their roles and the play as a whole. There is never a lag, never a falter in the action. It is non-stop riveting.
I spoke to a young girl of perhaps nine during intermission to get her take. She said she had never seen Shakespeare before but was loving it. Frankly, during the second half, I began to worry that the intensity would be too much for her, but this is when Shakespeare is at its best—not watered down—no apologies made. This production is not for the faint of heart. It is for anyone who loves the language, who looks for authentic emotion in theatre, and who wants to be entertained, not coddled.
Finally, cheers to all the crew: to Costume Designer Becky Willett who nailed it with modern day dress that was skewed toward leather/biker/rocker chick, lighting designer Alan Piotrowicz, whose moody lighting gave the show an appropriately eerie quality, and to sound designer Weston Wetzel, whose sparse, evocative music added the right touches at just the right times. And about director Lenny Banovez, all I can say is: he is a master of his craft.
The show runs through May 2 in the Studio Theatre downstairs at Queens Theatre in the Park, Flushing. Tickets are a bargain price of $18.00, and to purchase them, go to titantheatrecompany.com. You can get to the theatre by car or take the 7 train and then a shuttle that Queens Theatre provides, running every ten minutes starting an hour before show time. Note the start time of 7:30 p.m. and be sure to allow extra time if there’s a Met’s game! However you get there, do. This Othello is the real thing.