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A Spare, Militaristic ‘Othello’ for Our Era

Lakeside Players’ production successfully transcends time

Aug. 10, 2017
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General Othello (Kenneth Montley) stares down Iago (Matt Rangel), promoting him to Lieutenant. - Bill Siel of Kenosha News

Lakeside Players’ excellently stark production of Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy, Othello, Moor of Venice, graced the stage at Kenosha’s Rhode Center for the Arts this summer, marking the company’s fourth installment of its Summer Shakespeare series. Under Alex Metalsky’s direction, the offering placed the Bard’s still relevant exploration of racism, unhealthy gender relations and social “othering” into the context of the “near future.”

Although the language remained in its original Elizabethan form and the characters wielded mostly swords, other production elements lodged the setting in a more modern sphere. Katlin Gerlach and Matthew Rangel’s costumes were the apparel of 21st-century business people and U.S. Army personnel. Designs for the simple but monumental set (Ed Skinner), lighting (Metalsky) and original score (Kyle David Perry) all suggested a spare, militaristic ethos with an impending sense of doom. Indicative of this production team’s commitment to realism, Rangel (who also portrayed Iago) served as a military consultant.

A standout performance came from Kenneth Montley in the title role. His physical choices and vocal and facial variety made Othello a dynamic and believable tragic hero throughout. Felicia Dominguez, as his faithful, wrongfully accused wife, Desdemona, is similarly riveting. An added bonus, her singing voice is heartrendingly beautiful and adds much to the character’s realization of her own demise. Together, Montley and Dominguez were well cast and made a compelling couple. Set against their great mutual tenderness in the opening acts, the overriding sense of their famous murder scene—sadness, rather than outrage—was arresting.

These two characterizations successfully channeled the play’s central questions for our time. Montley’s Othello called us to consider how a man of color, universally treated as an unwanted alien (his own wife refers to him as “The Moor”) even as he adeptly fulfills a position of power and repute, might too quickly believe he is betrayed by the one he loves most. Dominguez’s Desdemona threw into sharp relief how a woman, raised to be obedient, and chastised whenever she thinks or acts for herself (her own husband questions her honor when she flouts her father in her choice of spouse), might find herself at a loss in effectively defending her own innocence.

Rangel’s Iago was more broadly drawn but highly effective, especially in the aim of bringing the story into modern times. In him we saw a military officer who, having been denied his promotion one too many times, finally snaps, allowing his sociopathic tendencies full reign. Rangel makes the character an endlessly smiling schemer whose voice and demeanor suggest simultaneously Heath Ledger’s Joker, a modern mass shooter and, as one audience member put it, “the sniper who really loves his work.” 

Metalsky’s direction moved the actor out into the audience for his famous series of soliloquies—a generally effective choice in suggesting how close to home this character’s pathology strikes. As Iago’s wife and unwitting accomplice, Emilia, Riccarda Eickenberg created a fascinating portrait of domestic abuse. The pair’s endless displays of affection grew increasingly sickening as the near-complete control Iago maintains over his wife’s sense of self became clear. Eickenberg was sympathetic in her journey, alas realized too late, toward self-differentiation. The actress shone in particular during her famous declaration to Desdemona about women’s failings being the fault of men who seem to do nothing but show them the way toward hurtful and selfish behavior.

Overall a highly successful production, Lakeside Players’ Othello pointed to the transcendence of human conditions such as love, jealousy and communication run amok, as well as the enduring need for social justice and understanding in a world beset by racism, sexism and generally ineffective power structures. 


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