Taking their cue from Othello’s accusation that Desdemona is “false as water,” Alison Darcy (director) and Joseph Shragge (dramaturgy) created a version of Othello which highlights the watery imagery which permeates Shakespeare text.
As they describe, “water is present in the geography and language” throughout the play in the canals of Venice, the sea at Cyprus, the hypnotic currents of Othello’s storytelling and of course in Desdemona’s tears. This is foregrounded in this production in the ongoing sounds of waves and rainstorms and in the flickering blue light which submerges us in the same dramatic depths as the action taking place on stage.
The bare and unadorned dramatic space is used to great effect. The traditional Renaissance rapier-and-dagger sword fights were greatly appreciated by this Shakespeare and D&D nerd.
The staging of the final act of the play is particularly striking as a drape drops and hangs from the ceiling, serving triple duty as bed covering, curtain and murder weapon. A chilling portrayal of one of Western drama’s most famous homicides.
Despite this strong staging, the play does suffer from uneven acting at times.
As Othello, Andrew Moodie often lacked intensity and presence. In the first scene, when Othello is discovered by Brabantio and his men, Othello admonishes both his men and Brabantio’s to “Keep up [their] bright swords.” However, the delivery of the passage seemed flat, without conviction. While he did deliver some admirable performances at time – the seizure scene in act III springs to mind as particularly noteworthy – Moodie seemed to be searching for his character at various times throughout the play.
In contrast, Amanda Lisman quickly found her character and, particularly after the first act, delivered a strong performance as Desdemona. However, Julie Tamiko Manning, in the role of Emilia, was one of the stand-out roles of the evening.
Sean Arbuckle’s Iago was also excellent, switching seamlessly between counselling Roderigo to keep sending him money, implanting his poisonous suggestions into Othello’s psyche and playing at being just one of the boys with Cassio.
Maurice Podbrey offered a commanding performance as Brabantio in act I but Paul Hopkins’ Montano was, in my view, the weakest member of the company and made one thankful that he had only a minor part.
While the synergy between Iago and Othello seemed forced at times, the exchanges between Iago and Cassio, as well as those between Emilia and Desdemona, were not only inspired but made the Shakespearean verse seem as natural to the ear as everyday speech. Fortunately, Moodie and Lisman seemed well-matched as husband and wife and if this Othello failed to convince that he could command armies, he could at least persuade that he could charm Desdemona’s heart.
One of the most successful scenes of the production took place in act IV, scene 3 between Emilia and Desdemona. Emilia and Desdemona’s conversation about the infidelities of men, delivered so matter-of-factly by Julie Tamiko Manning and Amanda Lisman only a few moments before Othello arrives in the bedroom, perfectly captures and prepares the tragedy which is about the follow.
Despite its’ imperfections, this production of Othello remains a very successful staging of Shakespeare’s text and one definitely worth seeing.
Or why not offer the gift of jealousy and murder for the holidays this year?
Tickets can be purchased from the Segal Center box office, either by phone at 514-739-7944 or directly on the Segal Centre website site. Prices start from $24. The play runs until December 1st.