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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Fall under Iago’s spell at ‘Othello’ production

    Ed Flores

    Courtesy of Ed Flores / Arizona Repertory Theatre

    Chris Okawa as Othello confronts the love of his life, Desdemona, played by Kierna Conner, in the UA Arizona Repertory Theatre’s chilling production of “Othello.” The play runs until April 5.

    Only in a Shakespeare play can deception, desperation and distrust beautifully divulge an appalling truth about the human condition. William Shakespeare’s carefully crafted pandemonium in “The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice” will wreak havoc on Arizona Repertory Theatre’s stage through April 5.

    The play tells the story of Othello, the general of the Venetian army, and the radiantly beautiful Desdemona. Othello and Desdemona’s relationship is poisoned by Iago, who is frustrated with Othello’s decisions as general. He plants seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind regarding Desdemona’s faithfulness and loyalty as a wife, then sits back and watches the marriage go up in flames.

    The play tackles issues that transcend its time. It redefines stereotypes on race and gender, examines the roles of jealousy and manipulation in relationships, and tests love’s ability to withstand human faults.

    Christopher Okawa, a musical theatre senior playing Othello, said he believes the main purpose of the play was to reverse stereotypical roles on race.

    “I think the overall theme of the play is encompassed in Iago’s line, ‘I am not what I am,’” Okawa said. “Othello is a black man in [an] Anglican society and perceived to be lesser because of that. [But he] is a heroic and bold and courageous man, whereas Iago is an upstanding member of society and ends up being the most evil of the bunch.”

    Matthew Bowdren, a post-graduate fellow of the Arizona Repertory Theatre playing Iago, had a different interpretation on the play’s overall theme.

    “I think it’s a look at how easily our minds can be manipulated, how quickly someone can be changed,” Bowdren said.

    Kierna Conner, a musical theatre junior who plays Desdemona, said “Othello” is like a case-study in the “ripple effect.” Conner said people’s actions, good or bad, have consequences that reach far beyond their own personal lives. She added that she is reluctant to call Iago a villain because a person’s actions stem from their past, painful experiences.

    “We’re either just hurt, or we’re not hurt,” Conner said, “and we act based on our story. … We can’t really blame anything that happens on any one person.”

    Taking on Shakespeare’s acclaimed roles is no easy task. The actors prepared for their parts through extensive research and analysis of the play. In the process, some actors were faced with challenges they had not expected. For Conner, who said she wears her heart on her sleeve, Desdemona’s struggles permeated into her own life.

    “Delving into the content of this show affected me a lot as a person, which I’ve never really dealt with before as an actor,” Conner said. “I’ve never worked on a piece that has affected my life outside of rehearsal a lot. … [I] would come away from … rehearsals feeling really dark inside. I worked a lot on meditating and kind of remembering that I am who I am, and Desdemona is not me — unless I’m on stage.”

    Similarly, Okawa had to change some of his perceptions in order to mold himself into Othello.

    “For me, the real challenge was playing such a mythological character,” he said. “Othello [has] been around for hundreds and hundreds of years, and many actors, far better than I could hope to be, have portrayed him. So for me, it was really just filtering him through myself and not playing him so much as the mythical Othello, but as a man who happened to be named Othello that these things were happening to.”

    Bowdren said he does not believe actors should try to interpret their roles. Instead, he noticed Iago is an improviser who does not have a grand scheme of annihilation like other villains. Because of this, Bowdren said that he tries to improvise and go along with Iago’s judgment as he performs.

    “I think there’s something about [Iago] that just likes chaos and likes hurting people,” Bowdren said. “He’s a soldier, a warrior and this seems to be one of the first times he’s in peacetime, and he doesn’t seem to know what to do with himself except cause problems. So, there’s almost … a compulsion to manipulate.”

    The Arizona Repertory Theatre’s rendition of “Othello” will be a must-attend event for Shakespeare lovers throughout the month of March.


    Follow Madison Scavarda on Twitter.

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