Review: ‘Othello’ Proves Lies Conquer Love
By Jil Picariello, Theater Editor, June 19, 2018
After last summer’s uproariously trumped-up and absurdly controversial Julius Caesar and the magical elder fairyland of Midsummer Night’s Dream, the first production of the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park season seems relatively tame. But what this production of Othello lacks in fireworks it more than makes up for in its understanding of the psychology of the two main characters.
As the Moor, Chukwudi Iwuji, who recently co-starred in the Public’s marvelous production of Bruce Norris’s The Low Road, presents an entirely believable descent from perfect happiness, to doubt, to murderous madness. He may not have the looming presence of previous Othellos (the great Raul Julia owned the role the last time it was performed in Central Park, way back in 1991), but what he lacks in years and power, he makes up for with a charisma that draws you to him in his confusion and ragged rage. What makes his descent all the more believable (and desperately sad) is Corey Stoll (last summer’s Brutus) tremendous performance as Iago. He so clearly puts Iago’s brilliance front and center—his shrewd understanding that the best way to make lies appear as truths is to present them ever-so-reluctantly, to force your unwitting victim to nearly pull them from your throat. It’s a lesson in psychology that you would never want your enemies to grasp. And it’s also the first time, thanks to Stoll’s incredibly persuasive performance, that you never question Othello’s trust in his false ensign. I would buy a used car from this Iago. I would, as Othello does, believe his lies.
It’s what director Ruben Santiago-Hudson doesn’t do as much as what he does that makes the production so gripping. There are no liberties taken with language; the play remains untrimmed. The simple and majestic sets—a series of arched collonades that move, a little—by Rachel Hauck are elegant and relatively unintrusive, and the gorgeous costumes by Toni-Leslie James in black, white, and metallic hues, are appropriate to the time and place, even if you wonder how the poor performers will survive a New York City summer in all that velvet and leather.
Heather Lind’s Desdemona matches her husband’s strength and assertiveness. This Desdemona does not go gentle into that good night. But for me, the breakout performance of the evening was Alison Wright as Desdemona’s handmaiden (and Iago’s wife) Bianca. She is smart and sharp, and steals the last scenes of the show with her powerful presence.
It’s not the most moving production of Othello I’ve ever seen, or even the best one at the Delacorte (Raul Julia was so good in the role, matched by a black-leather-jacketed Christopher Walken as Iago), but on a lovely summer night in a richly verdant Central Park, it was a mighty fine way to spend the evening.
Othello presented by the Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater, Central Park, through June 24, 2018. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson; scenic design by Rachel Hauck; costume design by Toni-Leslie James; lighting design by Jane Cox; sound design by Jessica Paz; fight direction by Thomas Schall; movement direction by Adesola Osakalumi; music composition by Derek Wieland.
Cast: Kevin Rico Angulo, Christopher Cassarino, Peter Jay Fernandez, Motell Foster, Andrew Hovelson, Chukwudi Iwuji, David Kenner, Heather Lind, Tim Nicolai, Flor De Liz Perez, Miguel Perez, Lily Santiago, Thomas Schall, Caroline Siewert, Corey Stoll, Babak Tafti, Allen Tedder, Peter Van Wagner, and Alison Wright.
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Cover: (l. to r.) Corey Stoll and Chukwudi Iwuji in ‘Othello;’ photo: Joan Marcus.