Othello: Tragedy with Murder, Manipulation, and Fantasy

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Othello Arrivies in Cypress and is greeted by Desdemona.

When thinking of Shakespeare’s Othello, we often remember its tragedy and its powerful Moorish protagonist. The protagonist’s race plays a part in the plot and character interaction. Gender roles are not often something that come up in the discussion with Othello, but it is a welcomed and interesting feature in this year’s Rude Mechanical’s production of the play.

The main protagonist and the villain for this production as well as many other roles are gender bent with some being men played by women, some simply having an ambiguous gender or fluid gender. All of this is accomplished in an original manner while still maintaining the quality and dramatic tone of the play’s plot and subject matter.

The show opens with a spectacle as yet-to-be identified characters march in circles around other characters shouting racially or sexually oriented slurs. It is loud, overloaded with color, movement, and action, drawing you into the surrounded characters discomfort. This moment sets the tone for an impactful performance immediately grabbing your attention.

Opening Scene Rude Mechanical's Othello
Opening Scene Rude Mechanical’s Othello
Opening sequence Othello as the charters continue to march.
Opening sequence Othello as the charters continue to march.

Following the spectacle Dr. Mary Ellzey delivers a short introduction to the play and production style, calling the production a fantasy after the musical term fantasia meaning a piece not confined by rules or logic. She also explains that the play will show characters of differing genders and even those that seem to change gender in the process.

The show itself features many moments of laughter, tears, and action. From the almost flirtatious dealings of Deidre Morrison’s Iago convincing TK Lindsay’s seemingly gender undefined Roderigo to be his purse to the tragic doubts coming upon Catherine Ellzey’s Othello as he falls for Iago’s manipulations goes down the road to horror and betrayal. The show keeps you on your feet, with sword fights, a mixture of modern and period costumes, and gestures making what could in other situations be murky Elizabethan dialogue carry though it’s message without question.

Catherine Ellzey as Othello speaks with Desdemona's father Brabanzio played by Alex Hale.
Catherine Ellzey as Othello speaks with Desdemona’s father Brabanzio played by Alex Hale.

The highlight of the performance is Morrison’s Iago, coming off as a master manipulator and villain we can all truly despise. He sows his seeds of doubt and separation in full bloom to obtain his desires and uses everyone around him, even his own wife, as an object. This is a complicated and often difficult character to fully realize and Morrison does so beautifully, giving us a three dimensional knave on all levels.

The production showcases Shakespeare for a modern audience in a new and unique way showing it as a deep and still very relevant subject. In Dr. Ellzey’s words “Shakespeare’s play-like life is complicated and fluid.”

Rude Mechanical’s production of Othello will be showing in Reynold’s Hall Friday, Nov. 4, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 5, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 9-10, at 8:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, Nov. 11-12, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Nov. 13, at 3 p.m. Admission is $8 general admission, free for Shepherd University students with a valid Rambler ID, and $2 for other students and Shepherd University faculty and staff.

Jessica Sharpless is a reporter for The Picket and can be contacted via email at jsharp02@rams.shepherd.edu