The United States of America has been at war for 14 years.
- 4489 Americans have died in Iraq. 2356 in Afghanistan.*
- Over 52,000 wounded.
- 970,000 disability claims registered with the Veterans Administration.
There will be future consequences we can hardly conceive of.
With their new production of Othello, the good people at WSC Avant Bard seek to honor the sacrifice of our military women and men and explore the psychological impact of combat on the home life of a returning veteran. The company has even paired with veteran service organization the 296 Project, a group dedicated to artistic and expression therapies for Post Traumatic Stress disorder and other combat-related maladies.
Few of literature’s heroes have suffered the costs of war quite as thoroughly as the Moor, making this particular tragedy a strong choice for a company looking to comment on the universal costs of living in a constant state of war.
Thus the tone is set for Tom Prewitt’s contemporary staging, with the action taking place largely on Jos. B. Muscumeci, Jr.’s impressively cramped techno-militaristic set, with LCD TVs projecting battlefield radar maps of the Mediterranean Sea. The effect is much like the bridge of an aircraft carrier or submarine. It’s kinda cool, quite frankly. All metallic blues and smoke effects and machines that go ping. Much of the production’s political points are made through Elizabeth Ennis’s costumes, with the civilian ruling class in non-descript suits, the military rank and file in utilitarian denim and leather, and the brass often in full dress blues.
It can be said that as Othello, Chuck Young fills out the uniform of a general quite well. This is Othello as elder military statesman. Unfortunately, as the leading man in a major Shakespearean tragedy, Young’s Othello is lacking in some fundamentals. Young clearly struggled with some lines and blocking over the course of night, though he was very strong in several scenes focusing on Othello’s psychological breakdown. One hopes that soon Young will more fully inhabit the powerful, flawed general.
Also somewhat lacking is chemistry with Sarah Barker’s Desdemona, who generally acquits herself well here, with her usual refined dignity. Theirs seems a marriage based more on affection and respect than the typical passionate elopement.
The night really belongs to the villains and their patsies. Frank Britton’s Iago is the highlight here, and given his primacy and power in much of the staging, the productions heart seeming really lies with the scheming ensign. This Iago is close cousin to Britton’s recent turn as Richard III. With his natural charm and verbal dexterity, Britton excels at wringing out our sympathies for even the most cruel and cunning of villains.
The casting of two black men in these roles casts an interesting wrinkle on the usual racial politics of the play, with Iago’s early reaction to Rodrigo’s racist description of Othello’s features marking the central conflict as perhaps one more class-based and careerist than racial.
That’s Jay Hardee as Rodrigo, providing much of the night’s comic relief. His Rodrigo is an unabashed cultural poser, fitfully taking on the signifiers of the underclass in his dual unsuccessful attempts to woo Desdemona and look cool to Iago. Sun King Davis is charming and athletic as an especially naive Cassio. His big knife-fight moment in the sun is one of my favorite pieces of stage combat in recent memory, kudos to choreographer Casey Kaleba.
Feb 4 – March 1
WSC Avant Bard at
Theatre on the Run
3700 South Four Mile Run Drive
Arlington, VA 22206
2 hours, 30 minutes with 1 intermission
Tickets: $10 – $35
Thursdays thru Sundays
It’s been a strange year for WSC Avant Bard, in which they find themselves once again without a permanent home. The lack of roots has led to a new sense of immediacy and ambition, such as was on display in last year’s audaciously original sign-language musical Visible Language. They haven’t let the lack of a permanent house stop their progressive dreams one iota. This Othello is far from perfect, featuring some odd design choices (such as some very ill-timed birdsong), and a leading man that needs more preparation.
More important to me is that WSC Avant Bard is still out there pushing buttons and boundaries. Last year, they illuminated the secret history of our deaf university, now they shine that light on the sacrifices of our military heroes. Keep fighting the good fight, Avant Bard.
Othello by William Shakespeare . Directed by Tom Prewitt . Featuring Chuck Young, Sara Barker, Frank Britton, Alyssa Sanders, Jay Hardee, Sun King Davis, Jennifer Osborn, Manolo Santalla, Gratiano
Joshua Dick, and Paul McLane . Produced by WSC Avant Bard . Reviewed by Ryan Taylor.
– * Statistics quoted above are from icasualties.org and costofwar.org.
– I have worked with several members of the cast professionally, including Frank Britton and Sun King Davis. This did not affect my review.
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