Villain steals show
Othello‘s Iago is one badass bastard. He’s conniving, manipulative and downright evil, with a major grudge against everyone. But the master schemer and ultimate slimeball is also one of the most intriguing characters in William Shakespeare’s portfolio.
In fact, Iago often overshadows the title character in Othello, as is the case in Sacramento Theatre Company’s current production. This is partly because the flawed second lieutenant is a more interesting, compelling character than the noble army commander Othello, and partly because of the performances.
Matt K. Miller, who also played the backstabbing villain in STC’s Amadeus, nails Iago’s slick and slimy personality. Miller makes some quirky choices along the way, but he never gets bogged down in Shakespeare-speak. He’s always breathing life into the language and nuances of his character. Marc Antonio Pritchett, a Los Angeles-based actor, eventually captures the passion of Othello, but a passive start and a habit of slipping into a “Shakespeare speech” mode and stance results in a self-conscious, plodding performance.
Othello’s first act is filled with the many characters and plotlines that give the back story of the Venetian-Turk war buildup on the island of Cyprus, Iago’s resentment of Othello, and the various players in Iago’s ultimate revenge. Though there are fine performances by local talents such as Loren Taylor and Ed Claudio, STC’s first half is lethargic and lacks energy and vitality.
Things pick up in the second half as suspense builds and the inevitable outcomes begin to dawn on the audience. Michele Hillen gives a layered performance as the wronged wife Desdemona, portraying innocence, confusion and eventual betrayal. Marie Bain, as Iago’s wife Emilia, gives us something to grab hold of with her projection of moral center and spirited outrage. Other notable performances are delivered by Brett Williams as Cassio and Brian Rivera as Roderigo.
The staging is compelling, with a unique angled set of stone-grey columns and dramatic lighting. Both the set and costumes have a strangely effective blend of classic and futuristic looks, with European and Asian influences.
In the end, the senseless tragedy of power, greed and jealousy is illustrated by a stage strewn with slain bodies. As one playgoer remarked while leaving the theater, “Nobody wins in this one.”