I happened, through outrageous fortune and excellent friendship, to have attended a small dinner party recently with Shakespeare and Company founder Tina Packer and her Women of Will acting partner, Nigel Gore. I mentioned that this production of Othello was my first attempt at directing Shakespeare. “Well,” noted that grand lady dryly, “good thing you chose an easy one!”
Yes, good thing.
Luckily, I’ve had some great teachers. I started digesting the Bard in little spoonfuls a thousand years ago at the hand of Murray Ross; I spent several summers hearing this great language in the sonorous tones of the renowned Bob Pinney, rest his dear soul. I’ve acted alongside stellar Shakespearean performers like Christopher Lowell, Fred Morsell, Paul Redford, Khris Lewin and Leah Chandler-Mills. Hopefully I’ve managed to retain at least a little of what I’ve learned by watching them.
We tend to think of Othello as a play about race. That’s true, but a closer look shows that it’s as much about gender; each of these women are people of integrity, courage and insight who exceed expectations, disregard convention and follow their inner compasses even when they lead them past the boundaries and limitations of their culture into dark and treacherous territory. Beyond race or sex, this is a play about face value, looking beyond appearances, things not always being as they seem.
Like all of Shakespeare’s tragedies, Othello explores the depth of human frailty, the agony of desire, the terrible loneliness of alienation. It’s about the fear of loss, the potency of ego and the frightening vulnerability we each carry deep within.
Gazette arts writer Tracy Mobley-Martinez asked me what I’d like the audience to take away from this production; I’ll tell you what I told her: If you leave saying 'Well, she didn't do TOO badly,' I'll be satisfied. If you've been moved by the actors' performances, if you know the play a little better than you did when you came in, if you had an engaging evening and want to come back and see something else I'll count this as a success. If you leave with a deeper understanding of how beautiful and flawed humanity is, of how the interplay between light and darkness can be deceptive, of the incredible, transcendent, sometimes destructive power of passion, well, then I can die happy. Mostly, I hope I didn’t bungle my first try too awfully much.
Many thanks to this gifted, hardworking cast who have worn their hearts upon their sleeves for daws to peck at; to the unseen angels who hide in the shadows waiting to move a set piece or place a prop; and to all of you who make Star Bar possible: we nothing but to please your fantasy.