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Reviewed by:
  • Othello
  • Barbara Ann Lukacs
Othello Presented by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey at the F.M. Kirby Shakespeare Theatre, Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. September 7- October 2, 2011. Directed by Bonnie J. Monte. Sets by Bill Clarke. Costumes by Paul H. Canada. Lighting by Steven Rosen. Sound by Karin Graybash. With Robert Cuccioli (Iago), Lindsay Smiling (Othello), Jon Barker (Michael Cassio), Victoria Mack (Desdemona), Jacqueline Antaramian (Emilia), Matt Bradford Sullivan (Roderigo), Jay Leibowitz (Lodovico), Bill Christ (Brabantio), Patrick Toon (Montano), and Susan Maris (Bianca).

The 2011 Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey's production of Othello represented a milestone in the directorial career of Bonnie J. Monte, since Othello was the only Shakespearean tragedy she hadn't yet directed. This delay was a conscious choice, born out of the ". . . frustration of never having seen a production that aroused [her] emotions in the way the play did when [she] read it" and a carefully considered analysis ". . . pondering the reasons why." Her reflections focused her attention and this production on a singular goal: "to tell the tale in a way that would move [End Page 188] [the audience]" in the same manner that she was moved by the text itself. To achieve this result, Monte chose to create a purely character-driven interpretation; to shift the dramatic center of the play from Othello to a shared center between Othello and Iago; and to explore the moral and psychological gray areas that exist in the text.

To emphasize the text, the staging was minimalistic. The merest outlines of building facades and battlements framed the center-stage. Most were constructed with black, perforated metal plates covered over in areas with weathered patches of gray and stone-colored stucco. In the wall at stage-left, two arched doorways were cut, one at the rear of the stage and one at the front. In between, there was an alcove surrounding a raised platform on which a tracery of three Moorish arches was placed. This platform rotated to serve as the Duke of Venice's throne, the entrance to the Cypriot garrison, and Othello's and Desdemona's bed. At stage-right was a straight wall with two doors; the doorway at the front featured a set of double doors. Above, there was a single, shuttered window that served as the upper story of Brabantio's house. At stage-right rear, a curved staircase led to an arched parapet while, behind the set, a gunmetal metallic scrim provided the backdrop to all of the scenes. Aside from the set, few stage properties were used, with most in a late medieval Mediterranean style. The costumes were similarly minimalistic and were representative of the early Italian Renaissance.

With such a simple set, there was nothing to distract the audience from the nuances of the text and the development of the dramatic conflict. Monte eschewed the interpretation of Othello as a play solely about race. In her view, "Othello is, at its core, a play about jealousy, trust, and betrayal." Monte chose to explore how these aspects of human nature are portrayed not only in Othello's character but also in Iago's. As she developed her concept of this production, Monte was ". . . mystified as to why . . . people keep referring to the jealous Moor." In Monte's opinion, "it is not Othello who is the jealous creature of this story. It is Iago. He is chronically jealous; it is his constant state of being." Othello, however, had only one bout of jealousy which was the result of Iago's manipulations.

With this insight guiding her, Monte worked with Cuccioli to create a unique persona for Iago; a persona that could explain both Iago's ability to use those around him and the seeming ease with which he deceives them all. Though he is typically portrayed as being innately evil—a morally and often physically repugnant, devilish creature that lacks even a shred of humanity—Monte and Cuccioli felt that this was an unrealistic, static stereotype and demeaned the other characters, making them appear blind [End Page 189] and dumb. Instead, Monte re-envisioned Iago not only as the master manipulator but also as a man, who perhaps...


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