Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Directing Othello: A Few Thoughts from Laura Cole

The beginning of the fall season here at the Tavern is always an exhilarating time, but particularly for the staff in our Education Department which, of course, is my home base. With school being back in session and educators looking to us to bring Shakespeare to their classroom, things around here are about to get delightfully chaotic (hey, we’re artists: we thrive on organized chaos!). Each fall is another chance to be better educators, better mentors and better guides for our students, and we are ready to embrace the challenge. It really is a job like no other: once you see a young person discover the power of Shakespeare’s language for the first time, believe me, it’s hard not to be hooked.

However, this fall I also have the distinct pleasure (and challenge) of directing Othello for the first time as a part of our Evolution Series. For those of you who don’t know, the Evolution Series is a multi-year project in which the ASC will produce all of Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies and histories in roughly the order in which they were written. This kind of project is an educational journey for the company and the audience—just one more way that we at the Tavern are actively finding new ways to inspire and engage our patrons. Also, it hasn’t been done before, at least to my knowledge. And that’s just cool.

On a personal note, it also happens to be my favorite. Don’t tell the other plays, okay?

Othello, of course, fits into the tragedy segment of the Evolution Series (if you are hoping for some light laughs, this ain’t it.) Along with King Lear, Macbeth (both coming later this season) and Hamlet, Othello is considered one of Shakespeare’s four great tragedies. Othello, however, is unique in the scope of its plot. Unlike the other three, many critics consider Othello a “tragedy of character.” This is not a play about affairs of state or the line to the throne. This is a domestic story, a personal tale about the inner workings of a man and a marriage. The story itself is highly structured: there are few sub plots, if any. Each incident in this play is directly linked to the ever-increasing fears of Othello and the evil machinations of Iago. All roads lead to Rome. (Or in this case, Venice.) Shakespeare does not allow us to veer off course: Othello’s trajectory is set and all we can do is hold on tight as our hero descends into deeper and deeper dismay. I’ve tried to capture that dynamic (the hurdling-like-a-freight-train-to-its-ultimate-conclusion kind of dynamic) in my staging of the play.

And, of course, there is Iago. More so than Lear’s daughters, or Claudius or Lady Macbeth, Iago is a villain of unparalleled evil. He is positively diabolical and, for the audience, deliciously so. His closeness to Othello, and his dubious reasons for deceiving the man he calls “friend,” makes the tragedy all the more compelling. Perhaps the best word to describe this play is: intimate. And witnessing it as an audience member is both unnerving and exhilarating. I believe it may be the most painful of all the tragedies, for the green eyed monster is never far from any of us, is he?

The ASC is very fortunate to welcome back Victor Love to tackle this hefty role. You may recognize him as Caesar from last season’s production of Julius Caesar. If you didn’t catch that, then perhaps you recognize him from one of the hundred of credits on his resume (see below for a taste of what he’s accomplished.) He is an amazing actor, and will surely make my job as a director look EASY!

Mr. Love has accumulated an impressive body of work throughout his long career, with roles in television, film and theatre. Some of his past credits in film/TV include: Bigger Thomas in Native Son, Hank in The Hank Gathers Story, Miami Vice, Different World, Batman Returns, LA Law, Will and Grace, Gang Related, HBO’S Spawn and The West Wing. He has even been the voice of a few really cool cartoon characters. He was in the cast of A Few Good Men on Broadway and his regional credits include: Camino Real at The Shakespeare Theatre, DC, Richard II at the New York Shakespeare Festival, Black at The Williamstown Theatre Festival, Playboy of the West Indies at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, Public Ghosts: Private Stories at the George Street Playhouse and Cymbeline at the Arena Stage, Washington, DC.

You won’t be able to tear your eyes away from this play and the captivating actor in the title role. It’s a big, heartbreaking, epic web of a story that you can’t help but enjoy watching unravel.

See you at the theatre!

Laura Cole, Director of Education and Training

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