Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most violent and upsetting tragedies. Events in Act V are particularly horrific. When the plot line is robbed of Shakespeare’s poetry, the final effect can be simply harsh and upsetting. Porter runs into this problem, but often is able to write around it. He sometimes provides his own 21st century rhythms and sometimes keeps original lines of the text to maintain some of the elegance and grandeur of Shakespeare’s script.
Many of the modern touches of the production are smart and effective. In the opening scene, Brad Antio, Des’s father, is notified of her elopement with Othello via cell phone. In the original, Iago is angry that Othello overlooked him and instead gave smooth talking Cassio the position of lieutenant. Here Iago is upset that Cass, who really just pretends to be punk but is probably an Emo fan in hiding, has replaced him in Othello’s punk band. Shakespeare has Othello’s army ship off to Cypress to battle the Turks. The new version has Othello’s band hurry off to Cypress to play a benefit concert after a tragic shooting. The play can keep Shakespeare fans on their toes throughout the evening.
Alas, I am a total punk rock illiterate, so any critique of the music I have is automatically suspect. That being said, to my ears, some of the singing and chording sounded a bit off on opening night. The voices were under amplified, so at times, the original lyrics were hard to pick up. However, all performers were focused and energized in this off the wall Shakespeare/punk mash up.
Tom Stewart’s portrayal of Iago is the show’s main focus. And while a bit of the subtlety of Shakespeare’s most crafty villain may be lost here, Stewart has a number of knock out moments as he pulls the strings that enmesh Othello and his newlywed. Jackie Miedema is the put-upon wife Des, and is able to portray a good deal of strength in her confrontations with her jealousy-plagued husband. Early scenes found Darien Upshaw’s Othello somewhat overshadowed by his cast mates, but he gained his footing as the night wore on. Kayla Teel as Emmy, ably captured the pain and disillusionment of a woman stuck married to a man like Iago. Director Emily Harvey keeps the play moving at a brisk pace, ever onward toward its wrenching conclusion.
Ghost Light Theatricals Black Vengeance plays at the Ballard Underground, 2220 NW Market St. Seattle, through March 22. Lighting design by Angelo Domitri; Costumes by Briana Schwarts; Vocal Coach Travi Roderick; Scenic designs by Kasia Rozanska. Ticket information at www.ghostlighttheatricals.org.