- Othello, and: The Tempest
Sally Wood's Othello was an awkward affair. The problem lay in the leads who dominate the play. Of the Folio's 3572 lines, Iago has 1098, while Othello has 891. Unfortunately, Adam Heffernan's Iago was often incomprehensible. We must grasp Iago's every syllable to recognize that his explanations don't explain a thing, except to suggest that he cannot articulate his anger. Most actors these days suggest a racial-sexual rage which the rationalist Iago cannot access. He doesn't have a complex. The complex has him. In this production, Iago's downstage center soliloquies were spotlighted, with the stage behind him darkened, so that his musings were part of our universe of meanings. This technique worked brilliantly for his first soliloquy ("Thus do I ever make my fool my purse"). The effect was augmented by the bright red robe he wore. But we needed a calm, understated approach framed for this small, shallow auditorium. That would have forced us to provide the power, the subtext for the words. Heffernan sometimes rushed past the signals. "You are a senator"—an insult in any culture—emerged without attitude. When Heffernan spoke about Cassio's wiping his beard with Desdemona's handkerchief, he gave the line none of its concupiscent suggestiveness. Charles Waters's Othello was at times clearly spoken, at other times all aroar, so that we understood a fury in the words but not the words themselves. Underplaying is almost invariably the way to go in smaller spaces. At moments, as in Othello's "This fellow's of exceeding honesty" soliloquy, I did not get the sense that Waters understood what Othello was saying. A soliloquy is invariably a "figuring out," an expression of what the character believes to be true. It should never resemble a recitation. Othello and Iago did, however, make a great moment of their discussion of how to kill Desdemona. Iago's "do it not with poison" did indeed suggest that he does not want Othello to employ Iago's own methods.
While the pace of the production was blessedly brisk, it might have slowed just a bit to let us experience Othello treading the fatal carpet of his own rhetoric as he lands on Cyprus. We understand his ecstasy, but we [End Page 134] should also grasp the lethal hyperbole he unleashes. I was not, then, convinced of the process whereby Iago ensnared Othello. Nor did I believe Othello's soldiership. His "put up your bright swords" should convince us of who he claims to be, as should his final reassumption of command. The speech in which Othello mourns his "occupation gone," then, carried no sense of a fabulous past departing like a dream. (Lawrence Fishburne, though robbed of many of Othello's lines in the Parker film (1995) had just portrayed a fighter pilot in The Tuskegee Airmen (1995), and it was a good launching pad for a depiction of Shakespeare's warrior.)
An index of the production's awkwardness was Othello's crouching downstage while Iago and Cassio, upstage, discussed Bianca...