Running in repertory with The Comedy of Errors, to Sept. 26 on the Mainstage in Vanier Park, 8 p.m. Tickets $18-$34 from 604-739-0559 and BardOnTheBeach.org
By Andrea Warner
Like some other Shakespeare plays, Othello, a powerful and damning indictment of jealousy, self-doubt, and betrayal, has always dwelled in the thorny briar patch of ‘Is it racist?’ Given that, at its most stripped-down, it’s essentially the story of a black man’s life ruined by a white man’s vengeful schemes, the question is a fair one, but one this production makes no attempt to answer. Instead, director Dean Paul Gibson amps up the play’s dark humour, dulling the seething rage that should propel Othello from start to finish.
The titular character (Michael Blake) is a Moorish (Renaissance English for “black”) general in the Venetian army who is married to Desdemona (Naomi Wright), a white Senator’s daughter. When he promotes Cassio (Kevin MacDonald) over his right-hand man, Iago (Bob Frazer), the latter secretly swears revenge and sets out to sabotage Othello. Thus begins an elaborate scheme, wherein Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair, driving Othello into a jealous — and ultimately murderous — rage.
The charming Blake and Wright have great chemistry together, from their playful young love to the final, horrifyingly violent struggle. Wright, the beating heart of this production, possesses a confident elegance that anchors every scene she’s in, particularly those shared with Iago’s wife, Emilia (Jennifer Lines).
However, it is a cruel irony that a truly successful Othello hinges on a great Iago, and that’s where this production falls short. As with some of the other Bard on the Beach productions in which he has appeared, Frazer seems to be in a different play than everyone else. He bucks the melodic lilt of Shakespearean language, sounding instead like a thoroughly modern man raised on a steady diet of deadpan, sitcom-styled line delivery. His Iago rarely rises above the level of a high-school Machiavelli busily testing the sociological effects of gossip with menace so measly it dilutes Othello from black and white to a muted shade of grey.