The Babcock Theatre's production of "Othello," directed by Douglas Jacobs, is an above average college production of Shakespeare's classic that scores exceptionally well on two counts - staging and the characterization of Iago.
And I am surprised to be writing this about Iago's character. For the first thirty minutes of the play I was actually disappointed by Willard Knox's portrayal of the villain. Knox recited his lines too quickly, with little emotion - almost as if he were saying a series of Shakespearean tongue twisters.He didn't shine, in fact, until his first soliloquy. Then, alone on the stage, Knox's even voice and small stature took on a greater significance. The man seemed truly, quietly demented.
I liked it.
That's the beauty of the play. No matter how many times you see it, "Othello" continues to expand for you, and you ask yourself different questions as you leave.
Last night I was wondering what made Iago so full of hate.
Knox's portrayal could support the theory that Iago suspected his wife of having an affair with Othello. He likes Emilia less, and Michelle O'Neill's Emilia loves him more than other Iagos and Emilias we've seen. When Emilia mentions, in front of Desdemona, what Iago suspects, Knox fairly spits his command for her to be quiet.
Othello is played with dignity by Jon Seaman. Erika Johnson gives her Desdemona a resigned quality. The two go well together and create a believable love affair, except for some awkward moments occasioned by the fact that he is so much taller than she. (As when he kneels before her and is still at her eye level.)
Desdemona's father is played by Rai French. Tom Ja-cobsen is very good as a round-faced Roderigo. Frank Magner is Cassio. Mary Garcia gives Bianca plenty of life and lust.
Eddie Coe designed the set. It was one of the most simple I've seen and very effective.
The stage is a white circle in a black room. The mood comes from dramatic lighting, a beating drum, and from actors carrying torches and chanting like a Greek chorus. The stage is especially effective when the characters circle each other on the empty surface and when Othello, beginning to believe his wife is cheating on him with Cassio, paces out his pain - around and around and around.
Jacobs added another unusual touch with a threatening scene between Othello and Desdemona implying rape and making his growing hate for her complete.
Then there was the scene where Othello kills his wife. He suffocates her, then, kissing her, breaks her neck.
A few people in the audience laughed at that murder. I don't know why. In the context of what had gone before it was not melodramatic. Johnson gave her best performance of the evening begging to be allowed to live for one more night or one more hour.
If you like Othello, the Babcock production will give you more to appreciate. If you've never seen the play before you might not catch all the puns, irony and humor in this production. You will, though, get to see a flawed but chilling Iago. (When Knox's eyes started glittering hate, I thought: "Ted Bundy." See what you think.)