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Othello

An excellent Victor Williams leads a skillful ensemble in Joanna Settle's mostly splendid production of Shakespeare's tragedy, featuring music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald.

By Connecticut
Triney Sandoval, Stephanie Fieger, Alexa Salame,
Victor Williams, and Jesse J. Perez in Othello
(© Joanne Bouknight)
Triney Sandoval, Stephanie Fieger, Alexa Salame,
Victor Williams, and Jesse J. Perez in Othello
(© Joanne Bouknight)
Joanna Settle's mostly splendid new production of William Shakespeare's Othello, being presented by Shakespeare on the Sound in Connecticut, succeeds thanks to a skillful ensemble with enough faith in themselves and in the text to rely on the sincere emotion the play requires.

Even more luckily, the company has an excellent Othello in Victor Williams, who starts out brash and hearty as a genial conquering hero, and visibly shatters when his faith in his new bride begins to crack. For this transition, co-composers Stew and Heidi Rodewald provide a panicky heart thrum -- one of many subtle, brilliant sound effects.

Triney Sandoval, in the relatively small role of Desdemona's suddenly bereft father, provides the first show's sit-up-and-take-notice moments. So telling is his stricken stance upon discovering that his daughter has been lured away by a secret suitor (and such a seemingly unsuitable one), he scarcely needs to speak -- the words emerge on a wave of emotion.

Stephanie Fieger plays Desdemona not as the usual simp, but as a forthright, stand-up young woman who knows her own mind (as suggested by her choice of mate). There's even a sense of strength in her ultimate sacrifice. As Settle directs the bedchamber scene -- staged with utmost simplicity on Andrew Lieberman's arresting set, a stark and bouncy berm composed of shredded tires -- Desdemona appears to claim agency in her own death. When, with her last breath, she names "I myself" as her murderer, she seems less the submissive victim and more a self-aware individual choosing to exit an existence whose promise has been irrevocably destroyed.

Unfortunately, Jesse Perez's Iago comes close to wrecking the show; his Iago is such a cartoonish archvillain that he all but twirls his mustache, Snidely Whiplash-style. From word one, he plays to the outfield -- grandstanding, gesticulating, overenunciating, and overemphasizing the text. The other puzzling performance comes from Nat McIntyre, whose Roderigo seems a fairly sharp-minded suit, rather than ready-made gull.

Still, Settle is to be commended for the fluid staging that allows the scenes to segue seamlessly, yet distinctively. Many of the exterior events take place on or under a raised catwalk, with its suggestion of an urban el. (It's where Brian Tyree Henry, as Cassio, opens the second half with a song faintly reminiscent of a street-corner a cappella tune.)

However, costumer designer Tilly Grimes' decision to dress nearly everyone -- including Emilia (forcefully played by Stephanie DiMaggio) -- in generic paramilitary garb lacks the kind of imagination elsewhere on display.


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