A Daring Take on Othello, the Moor of Venice at Marin Theatre Company

Craig Marker (Iago) and Aldo Billingslea (Othello) in William Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice, now through April 22 at Marin Theatre Company.

Othello, the Moor of Venice, directed by Jasson Minadakis, is the first Shakespearean production ever staged by Marin Theatre Company.  Minadakis deserves a lot of credit for his cleverly crafted, electric and fresh version of this play.  

Othello, the Moor of Venice, traces the tragic downfall of Othello (Aldo Billingslea, a Moor who became general of the Venetian armies during the Italian Renaissaince).  He angers Iago (Craig Marker) one of his high ranking soldiers, when he passes him over for promotion in favor of the untested gentlemen soldier, Michael Cassio (Patrick Russell).  In his jealousy, Iago seeks an opportunity to ruin both men and finds it when they are all sent to Cyprus to defend the strategically located island against the Ottoman Empire.  

"Honest" Iago becomes the most unscrupulous villains of drama, but Craig Marker keeps him thoroughly human and plausible. Billingslea succeeds by emphasizing Othello's simplicity, his ignorance of city life and his humility.  He is a professional soldier, bred in the camp, unversed in Venetian subtleties.   He is touchingly humble when he thinks of how he differs from his wife Desdemona, in age, social background and race. 

The performances of Patrick Russell as Cassio and Nicholas Pelczar as Rodorigo, Desdemona's spurned suitor, are drawn with great care.  Mairin Lee as Desdemona is a high-spirited Venetian aristocrat. This gives her dignity which she carries very well.  Liz Sklar as Aemilia, wife of Iago and companion to Desdemona is a well thought out departure from the norm.  She is now seen as a soldier, colleague to her husband, and always subordinate by her gender.  She is subordinate to Desdemona by class as well.  Dan Hiatt is outstanding as Desdemona's bitter father, Brabantio.

In bringing this classic Shakespearean tragedy to life, Minadakis has made many strong and bold choices. For example, the exceptional idea to put two scenes together so we are better able to follow and feel the action, is exciting and thus helps us understand how all of the play's elements are intricately intertwined. Minadakis' simply staged production gives us a wonderful evocation of both Venice and Cyprus in J.B. Wilson's scenic design, supported by the superb lighting design of Kurt Landisman.  Minadakis discovered how Shakespeare's love and respect for both the actors and the language of his play made him such an amazing writer.  

With the strength and skills of his incredible cast, Minadakis was able to pull off his unique vision of Othello.  

Othello, the Moor of Venice continues at Marin Theatre Company through April 22, 2012. Performances are Tuesday, Thursday-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m. and a Saturday matinee on April 21 at 2 p.m. and a Thursday matinee, April 12 at 1p.m.  Performances are held at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, CA. For tickets, check marintheatre.org or call 415-388-5208.  

Coming up next at Marin Theatre Company will be God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza, translated by Christopher Hampton, and directed by Ryan Rilette, May 24-June 17, 2012.

Flora Lynn Isaacson