Theater review: 'Othello' from Orlando Shakespeare Theater

The question of "Why" looms over "Othello," William Shakespeare's tragedy of jealousy and revenge. Why does scheming Iago go to such lengths to bring about Othello's downfall? Why is Othello, a Moor living among white Europeans, so quick to fall prey to Iago's machinations?

Shakespeare himself was vague on the Iago question. Scholars' opinions range from simple anger at missing out on a promotion to the more complex view that Iago harbored a repressed, all-consuming love for his commanding officer, Othello.

But in Orlando Shakespeare Theater's disappointing production, which opened Friday, director Brian Vaughn doesn't seem inclined to give the audience any subtext as to his characters' motivations. And without motivation, the story falls flat.

Although the play is titled "Othello," Iago is just as important a character. Martin Yurek displays flashes of glee as he manipulates Othello into believing his new bride, Desdemona, has been unfaithful. But without a clear rationale, the smirks and angry audience asides are all flash, no substance.

Through the European characters' words, Shakespeare suggests Othello is a victim of racism. Vaughn occasionally creates a striking tableau to that effect by planting Esau Pritchett, as Othello, in the center of the stage and surrounding him with white actors. But Pritchett, who also played Othello for the Shakespeare Theater in a 2004 production, does nothing to follow through on that idea.

Pritchett has the requisite imposing physique for Othello. But what shadings he might give his characterization are too often swallowed up through his delivery. His lines tumble out in lightning-fast, rumbling bursts that make hash of Shakespeare's words.

This leaves a vacuum in the principal roles that makes the supporting ladies more interesting to watch, a disparity that throws off the balance of the play.

Suzanne O'Donnell, who also returns to a role she played for the Shakes in 2004, imbues Iago's wife, Emilia, with welcome clarity as her flippant naivete about her husband's actions develops into a horrifying realization of his deeds.

Lindsey Kyler's youth works in her favor as besotted Desdemona. And as the businesslike Duchess of Venice, Anne Hering delivers orders to Othello in ringing, authoritative tones, like Judi Dench's M sending the movies' James Bond on a mission.

Eric T. Haugen's mood lighting — flickering lamps, a deepening night sky — is attractively effective. And Denise R. Warner's costumes are lovely to behold.

But, alas, even their beauty can't mask the superficiality on the stage.


What: An Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of the Shakespeare drama

Length: 3 hours, including intermission

Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando

When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, senior matinees at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, and Wednesday, March 13; in repertory through March 16

Tickets: $17-$40

Call: 407-447-1700


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