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Karl Hugh, Utah Shakespearean Festival
James Newcomb, left, as Iago, and Jonathan Earl Peck as Othello in the Utah Shakespearean Festival's 2008 production of Othello.
"OTHELLO" Utah Shakespearean Festival, Cedar City, through Aug. 30 (800-752-9849 or www.bard.org); running time: 3 hours, 15 minutes (one intermission)

CEDAR CITY — The grand Shakespearean tragedy "Othello," which explores the essence of good and evil, light and dark, opened Tuesday night at the Utah Shakespearean Festival.

And it is a tragedy in every sense of the word — at the end of the play, one woman left the Adams Outdoor Theatre saying, "Well I wasn't expecting all that!"

But this scary look at humanity and who we trust, (and who we don't) is a good one.

Director J.R. Sullivan has assembled a fine cast for this tale of the black Christian Moor who secretly marries the fair Desdemona and whose jealousy will eventually be his unraveling.

In the center of it all is Iago, ensign to Othello, who was passed over for a promotion and therefore declares revenge against the Moor.

James Newcomb is boyishly innocent, yet when addressing the audience, discussing his plan for revenge, his eyes glint dark and dangerous, and his face becomes cold and hard. He often rattles the Shakespearean prose a touch too fast, but he is wonderfully cold as one of the Bard's most notable villains.

As he menaced around the stage, I often found myself thinking, "Geez! What is this guy's problem?!" Iago's perceived wrongs don't seem to match the punishment he dishes out. He's utterly cold and completely evil.

Another standout was Corliss Preston, as Emilia, Iago's wife and Desdemona's personal maid. Her discovery of her husband's evil-doings and the fact that she, too, had been manipulated, was impassioned and moving.

With striking stage presence, Jonathan Earl Peck plays Othello. His blind trust of "honest Iago" is often difficult to understand, but Peck transitions nicely from a confident nobleman to an insecure husband in a jealous rage. The diminutive stature of the beautiful Lindsey Wochley as Desdemona puts Othello's rage in a scarier light and makes the final scene, where he exacts revenge on his innocent wife, unsettling.

The supporting cast, including Danny Camiel, Will Zarhn, Justin Matthew Gordon and Marcella Rose Sciotto, among others, is solid in their storytelling as well.

Bill Black's costumes are another reason to take a peek at "Othello" — his use of rich fabrics and vivid colors are beautiful, and Donna Ruzika's lighting, especially having to light many nighttime scenes, was also well done.

Overall it's a fine evening of theater. But beware, you'll leave feeling a little unsure of those closest to you. Who can you really trust? Who is only looking out for their best interest? And, can you even trust yourself?

Sensitivity rating: Minor sexual gestures, a strangulation scene that would be upsetting for young kids, and stabbings which could also be scary.


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