Powerful black man marries rich white woman. White woman's father freaks and disowns her. Jealous dudes plot to ruin black man's life by telling him that his wife is cheating on him with his bestie. Both black man and white woman end up dead. This could be an episode of some Kardashian-esque melodrama, but William Shakespeare's tragedy Othello questions the value of one's reputation in the latest production from Orlando Shakes, playing now through March 16 in the Margeson Theater.
The majority of the play is set in a Greek outpost of the Venetian army where Othello (Esau Pritchett) resides as general with his wife, Desdemona (Lindsey Kyler). Pritchett's Othello is imposing, burly and masculine, with the deep baritone delivery one would expect of a powerful militant. By contrast, Kyler's virtuous Desdemona is sweet and obedient, not to mention perfectly diminutive compared to her hulking husband.
While the chemistry between Pritchett and Kyler was undeniable, the power couple is certainly Iago (Martin Yurek) and his wife, Emilia (Suzanne O'Donnell). As Iago chips away at Othello's gentle and noble exterior, Yurek's vehement and deliciously impulsive performance highlights the villain's innate wickedness. O'Donnell's Emilia is all at once nurturing, confident and fresh in a play teeming with deceit, declaring to Desdemona, "Men are all but stomachs, and we all but food. They eat us hungrily, and when they are full, they belch us."
Scenic designer Bert Scott planned a multi-level alabaster thrust set that, while minimal, did well to portray Mediterranean warmth while providing the actors plenty of dynamic space. Scott also integrated North African accents appropriate for a play about a Moor, the Middle English name for the Muslims who inhabited that land, and an alternate moniker for the title character.
While the play centers largely on the downfall of the major male characters, director Brian Vaughn's imagining carries a distinct "girl power" flavor. Kyler and O'Donnell are joined by the Duchess of Venice (classically, a duke), played by Anne Hering, whose commanding but compassionate authority demands abeyance from all in her presence, including the mighty Moor.
Shakespeare's plays continue to reverberate with audiences because their themes are universal. Maybe more than others, Othello is particularly appropriate for this time of political uncertainty and disillusionment. Orlando Shakes' resonating performance reminds us that "men are men, and the best sometimes forget."
through March 16
Orlando Shakespeare Theater
812 E. Rollins St.