OTHELLO by William Shakespeare, directed by David Latham (Stratford). At Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford. To September 22. $40-$88, stu $26. 1-800-567-1600. Rating: NNN
Othello is Shakespeare's most compact tragedy, its action unfolding in a quick one-two punch involving guile, innocence and viciousness.
The Stratford production, directed by David Latham , captures only part of that tightness, but there's still a tension that drives the play.
In brief, the duplicitous Iago convinces the Moor Othello that Othello's wife Desdemona is untrue; the result is a series of deaths that affect both the virtuous and the scheming.
The first black Canadian to play Othello at Stratford, Philip Akin takes a while to fill the part. In the early scenes, its poetry and gravitas aren't at his command. We have to feel that he's in control from his first lines, winning the audience over just as his language and bearing persuade the Senate of his nobility and honour.
But Akin does grab viewers when Othello's jealousy is aroused, and from that point he becomes a tragic, dangerous figure about whom we care. Even his body language changes as he becomes the infuriated husband intent on righting the wrong done him.
It's Jonathan Goad 's Iago who shines here. Seductive, scheming and soft-spoken, his Iago takes us into his confidence with an intimate seductiveness. Through whispered asides and steely-toned monologues, he reveals his malice toward everyone around him.
A theatrically rich Machiavellian figure who's called "honest" time and again, he's wonderfully manipulative in his handling of Othello, taking cold delight in the way he plays the naive Moor. Too bad that the usually strong Claire Jullien gives Desdemona so little edge. Desdemona unwittingly forwards her own tragedy, but there's a strength and goodness about her that Jullien fails to suggest, even in her final moments of horror. The performance is too neutral to have much effect.
Still, there's good work by Tova Smith as a seductive Bianca - I wish the role were larger - and Lucy Peacock as Iago's wife, Emilia. Peacock makes Emilia a direct, passionate victim of spousal abuse, used to her husband's brutalities but so besotted with him that she can't leave. Not a pretty picture, but a dramatically convincing one.