ANW's Othello Comes Down to Earth

Leigh Kennicott Reviews - Theater
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Even if they haven’t seen it, most people know the story of Othello; one of unimaginable jealousy at the hands of a master manipulator. So it may be saying something to announce that A Noise Within’s production, helmed by Jessica Kubzansky, is the most practical rendition of this play that I have ever seen. What if Iago does not personify evil incarnate? What if Othello is not full of himself? What if Desdemona is not an innocent damsel caught in a trap? The usual tropes are nuanced here, helped along by Kubzansky’s decision to place the action in modern day Cyprus, a location still under stress some 400 years after Shakespeare wrote Othello. His words, however, are the same and some judicious pruning, with the help of dramaturg Miranda Johnson-Haddad, moves the action along in a tight, cause-and-effect trajectory that powerfully builds the tension.

At the play’s opening, we get a feel of a fighting unit newly reorganized under Othello (Wayne T. Carr) who shares the glory with Iago (Michael Manuel), his comrade-in-arms and seems not to notice his disappointment when Othello elevates Cassio (Brian Henderson) as his lieutenant at Iago’s expense. Although Iago’s low reaction seems underplayed, his gathering drive for revenge then feels completely understandable. Othello, for his part, is less egoistic as inexperienced in love and insecure as a Black man who doubts hinself in winning Desdemona (Angela Gulnar). Gulnar, incidentally, plays up Desdemona’s rebelliousness so that, when she finds herself at an isolated garrison, faced with an increasingly unpredictable new husband, we have a new sense of her own hubris.

The subplots, often cut down the bone, enrich the traditional tale. Performed by the brilliant Jeremy Rabb, Roderigo becomes even more of a buffoon and the harlot Bianca (well played by Sally Hughes) takes the stage as a woman wronged by Iago’s underhanded dealings.

All these nuances are, as I said originally, the result of Jessica Kubzansky’s subtle approach to this iconic play. Her concept continues to play out in the construction of the bare-bones metal set piece by Frederica Nascimento; the eclectic collection of fatigues and other uniforms from Angela Balogh Calin; the pin-pointed lighting by Rose Malone and the sound --- some quite ominous – by John Zalewski. The action becomes more realistic with Ken Merclx’s fights and military coaching from Jack LaZebnik.

Othello performs in repertory through April 28, 2019, with The Glass Menagerie (April 26th) and Argonautika (May 5) at A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena 91107. See www.anoisewithin.org for complete schedule. Ticket prices start at $25.00. Phone (626) 356-3114 or online at www.anoisewithin.org.