Poisonous Truth

A review of Othello at INTIMAN by Anna B.

Othello is, by far, the most harsh of Shakespeare’s works I have seen. The play itself is a horrific slasher, a ghastly tragedy played out in agonizingly slow motion through scene after scene of malignancy, vitriol, and madness.

Thus, if you’re looking for a pleasant diversionary evening, stay away. You may leave the theater unable to breathe, choked with hopelessness and filled with despair. Othello, especially as performed by Intiman, is not for the faint of heart.

But for those who dare venture into the theater, Othello reveals true portrayals of human nature found in few other plays, offering characters so true to life you yourself want to enter the story, alter the course of events with a few words. Shakespeare presents the power of jealousy, the wretchedness of betrayed trust, and the beauty of sacrifice, all within the few short hours of Othello.

To briefly sketch the storyline, Othello, a moor, has married the beautiful Desdemona against her father’s will. Othello’s trusted servant Iago, however, plots to ruin their happiness out of pure malice. He slowly poisons Othello’s mind, making him believe his lieutenant, Michael Cassio, and Desdemona are sneaking around together behind is back. In a climax fraught with symbolism, Iago brings Othello’s and Desdemona’s story to a tragic close through his Machiavellian workings.

Iago is the most despicable character ever (and if you see this play, you will agree that statement is not an exaggeration). Like the Joker, he mostly just wants to watch the world burn, taking down Othello merely because Othello is there. Strangely enough, throughout the whole play Iago is constantly referred to as “Honest Iago”, a testament to Othello’s innocent perception of him. He betrays Othello’s trust spectacularly, all without giving away his true nature to the poor man. In the guise of help, he destroys Othello’s world. The power of Othello’s trust in his “honest Iago” is emphasized over and over again.

Iago also is constantly reassuring people that he “loves” them. Not to be cliché, but actions speak far louder than words as Iago stabs these people in the back, uses them for no other reason than that he wants their life ruined, and destroys them from the inside out. Again, the very concept of love is brought to question in this emphasis on the word “love.”

The play itself, as well as Intiman’s production, has a few interestingly emphasized words/concepts: honest, love, sweet, witchcraft, truth. But the spaces left in the play make their mark as well. The pause before Iago tells of the “lovers,” the breath before Othello moves from principles to pure, outright jealousy, the silence between Desdemona and her maid as the maid brushes her lady’s hair for the last time.

Othello may be a poisonous play. But it is a play where true human nature comes to life, where the concepts of honesty and trust are thrown around and mixed up, and where you have an urgent need to jump out of your seat and put to rights this whole mess by giving a character or two a good shaking. It’s Shakespeare, and in the hands of Intiman Theater Othello has a great deal of power.

Anna B.
July 8th, 2009

Through August 9th
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