Saturday, August 7, 2021

OTHELLO • St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Shakespeare, six actors, 24 parks and free admission? Oh, yeah. St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s brand new regional touring initiative, “TourCo”, is bringing a 90-minute adaptation of Othello to 24 public parks across the bi-state area. The stops include each of the past nine neighborhoods featured in its Shakespeare in the Streets program, as well as spots from Clayton and Hermann, Missouri to Belleville and Brussels, Illinois. You can check out the full list by scrolling down a bit here.

These TourCo productions aim to bring Shakespeare to audiences who may not otherwise have access to it, while decoding the language, providing hints to themes and what to look out for, and zeroing in on context -- emphasizing the timeless nature of the Bard’s plays. 

Speaking of timeless nature, what happens when a black man marries an upper-class white woman and rouses the green-eyed monster in a friend? In Othello, the answer is... well, nothing good really. Jason J. Little is dashing as Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army and newlywed to Desdemona (Courtney Bailey), the daughter of a local politician. She has eloped with Othello against her father’s wishes. When one of Othello’s lower-ranking soldiers, an ensign named Iago (Charlie Barron), is skipped over for a promotion he loses to Cassio (Jesse Muñoz), he vows to slander Cassio and crush Othello, with a plot to convince him that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Barron is perfectly villainous as Iago. Consumed by jealousy, he stalks back and forth, vaping and manipulating from the sidelines, sowing doubt in everyone Othello trusts, while hurling racial insults behind his back. Hannah Geisz is great as Roderigo, Iago’s willing stooge who helps move the duplicity along. Jesse Muñoz is persuasive as a framed and tarnished Cassio, and Ricki Franklin is Emilia, Iago’s outspoken wife, unwitting to his plans until it’s too late. Bailey, noticeably at ease with Shakespeare’s verse, is convincing as Desdemona, who finds herself completely unable to understand her husband’s sudden, harsh suspicions, and Little’s unraveling is palpable, as Othello goes from a confident military insider in a loving relationship, to an alienated “other”, eventually spiraling to murderous rage.