Marin Theatre Company: a cinematic ‘Othello’ presents many charms but a cold heart

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 3/5 Stars » Recommended)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

The play, Othello, is Shakespeare’s great aria of pity for the weaknesses of humankind.

The character Othello is a giant of a man, full of love and decency, admirable in every way, lover, soldier, poet and statesman. We cannot help but join his wife, Desdemona, and most of Venice in our love and admiration for this towering figure. When he eloquently defends himself against a charge of having used witchcraft to seduce his bride away from her father, we fully understand the sentiment of the Duke, who states that “this tale would win my own daughter, too.”

Iago’s pure burning and unadulterated hatred for Othello, although he justifies it somewhat with his complaint of having been passed over for promotion and his suspicion that Othello has slept with his wife, seems impossibly intense and unbalanced. It as if Iago not only hates Othello, but is in love with hatred the way some men are said to be in love with love. He wallows in his hatred, and his manipulation of others’ weaknesses, with a depth of pleasure that we recognize as monstrous and inhuman. Unlike any of Shakespeare’s other criminals, we feel no sympathy or compassionate understanding for Iago: his behavior seems to represent a malignity that is beyond human, as if he were an incarnation of Satan himself. Our pity is profoundly invoked for those essentially innocent gulls whose various human weaknesses make them susceptible to Iago’s genius for spiteful manipulation.

Craig Marker as Iago, Aldo Billingslea as Othello, and Mairin Lee as Desdemona in Marin Theatre Company's production of Shakespeare's "Othello". Photo credit: Kevin Berne.

Jasson Minadakis‘s production for Marin Theatre Company gives us a wonderful evocation of Venice and Cypress with a beautifully effective set by J. B. Wilson supported by superb lighting design and costumes by Kurt Landisman and Fumiko Bielefeldt. Composer and sound designer Chris Houston has added subtle musical background to heighten the drama in the manner of a film score. Fight director Dave Maier has provided thrilling swordplay and convincing physical action with cinematic realism. The atmospheric riches of this Othello are in every way exceptional.

Moreover, Aldo Billingslea in the title role has a thrilling physicality that is viscerally satisfying for the audience. Craig Marker‘s Iago is fascinating and consistently intelligent. Patrick Russell‘s shallow Michael Cassio is right on the mark, and Mairin Lee‘s Desdemona is breathtakingly lovely.

There is a great deal in this production of which the company can be justly proud.

For all the technical excellence and beautiful stagecraft on display, however, I found the production peculiarly unmoving, emotionally, as if the story were being demonstrated rather than lived. Although the text was clearly explicated and never confusing, and the action always interesting and occasionally thrilling to watch, the emotional work of the actors never seemed to achieve truly Shakespearean heights. And that is the reason to conclude, alas, that this production, while excellent in many aspects, does not quite achieve what might have been.

Still, what’s here is quite wonderful and commendable. Particularly noteworthy are choice performances by Dan Hiatt as Brabantio and Nicholas Pelczar as Rodorigo. Pelczar’s portrayal of Rodorigo’s comic confusion and desperate love makes for a memorable turn.

Othello continues at Marin Theatre company through April 22. For further information, click here.


“Othello” by William Shakespeare, produced by Marin Theatre Company. Director: Jasson Minadakis. Scenic Designer: J. B. Wilson. Lighting Designer: Kurt Landisman. Costume Designer: Fumiko Bielefeldt. Composer & Sound Designer: Chris Houston. Fight Director: Dave Maier. Dialect & Text Coach: Luynne Soffer. 

Rodorigo: Nicholas Pelczar. Iago: Craig Marker. Brabantio/Cypriate Soldier: Dan Hiatt. Othello: Aldo Billingslea. Michael Cassio: Patrick Russell. Venetian Officer/Bianca: Rinabeth Apostol. Duke of Venice/Montano/Lodovico: Khris Lewin. Venetian Senator/Aemilia. Desdemona: Mairin Lee.


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