Review: "Othello" at Stratford Festival

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  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

Stratford, ON - For me, the reward of having an expectation of the truth captured on stage for nearly two hours and forty minutes is exhilarating to say the least. It doesn’t matter if the production is either professional or non-professional. The actor must continually strive to play the truth at all costs.

When this expectation is exceeded on an opening night, the cast must ensure a paying audience that the truth will always be captured each performance.

Rest assured, this highly charged, edge of my seat psychological tragedy of Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ is in very good hands under this extraordinary cast with a sharp, in tune direction by Nigel Shawn Williams.

The Moorish general, Othello (Michael Blake), has just eloped with Desdemona (Amelia Sargisson), and has defied her father, senator Brabantio’s (Randy Hughson) wishes. This marriage has also led to the humiliation and disappointment of another suitor for Desdemona, Roderigo (Farhang Ghajar). Othello believes his trusted sergeant, Iago (Gordon S. Miller), will always have his best interest at heart but we learn this is not the case. Iago has his own deep-seated feelings of resentment and anger towards the Moor because Othello has promoted Michael Cassio (Johnathan Sousa), a younger man whom Iago considers to be less a solider. Iago begins to instigate mind games with many of the characters on account of his bitterness towards Othello.

Roderigo riles up Desdemona’s father who goes before the Duchess of Venice (Michelle Monteith) to accuse the Moor of bewitching his daughter to make her fall in love with him. This charge is dropped but when Desdemona and the newly promoted lieutenant Michael Cassio (Johnathan Sousa) accompany Othello on a military mission to Cyprus, Iago takes this opportunity to begin planting in Othello’s mind unjust suspicions and obsessions which ultimately culminate in the tragedy at the end.

It’s a bare stage upon entering the Festival Theatre and a light shining through one of two doors. I was wondering if projection visuals would have been incorporated into the performance and, yes, they were magically executed courtesy of Denyse Karn. Some of these projections drew gasps from audience members sitting around me.

Performances are first rate and top notch all round. Michael Blake’s Othello was a real flesh and blood man who truly loved Desdemona despite the intended racist remarks thrown at him by an unnerved Brabantio. During the second act I watched with complete amazement at Mr. Blake’s epileptic fit he suffered because his Othello has been wronged. Truly outstanding work.

Amelia Sargisson’s Desdemona most assuredly tore at my heart strings especially in the second act when we can see Iago’s duplicitous work at hand. My heart sank when Othello strikes an unsuspecting Desdemona across the face because he has wrongly believed lies about his wife. Ms. Sargisson has indeed convincingly shown us a woman who has been maliciously wronged and does not deserve what has happened to her.

Gordon S. Miller’s Iago is a performance highlight of the evening. His Iago is everything a villain must be – two faced, deceitful and dishonest – and I can understand completely why any actor would relish the opportunity to play him. Mr. Miller has also captured an especially dark side to Iago when he nearly strikes his wife, Emilia (a convincing and strong performance by Laura Condlln) because she stands up to him when she senses something is not right. Ms. Condlln’s scenes with Ms. Sargisson are tender and poignant because there is a hint in the dialogue that Desdemona will die this night.

Supporting players are also top notch. Farhang Ghajar shines as the jilted Roderigo who listens to bad advice which costs him dearly in the end. Johnathan Sousa’s Cassio offers a steadfast performance of character depth of a man who has had unfair accusations hurled against him but remains firm in his determination to the end and right what has been wronged.

‘Othello’ runs to October 27 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Ontario. Tickets are available at www.stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600.

Production runs approximately two hours and forty minutes with one intermission.

The Cast: Michael Blake, Juan Chioran, David Collins, Laura Condlln, Farhang Ghajar, Michelle Giroux, Emma Grabinsky, Randy Hughson, John Kirkpatrick, Shruti Kothari, Daniel Krmpotic, Josue Laboucane, Jamie Mac, Hilary McCormack, Gordon S. Miller, Amelia Sargisson, E. B. Smith, Johnathan Sousa, Michael Spencer-Davis, Brigit Wilson

Director: Nigel Shawn Williams; Producer: David Auster; Designer: Denyse Karn; Lighting Designer: Kaileigh Krysztofiak; Composer/Sound Designer: Verne Good; Projection Designer: Denyse Karn; Fight Director: Anita Nittoly;

Picture: Amelia Sargisson as Desdemona and Michael Blake as Othello by David Hou.