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Home / Articles / Arts / Theater /  In Old Globe’s ‘Othello,’ it’s bad to be good
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Wednesday, Jul 02, 2014

In Old Globe’s ‘Othello,’ it’s bad to be good

Launch of the summer Shakespeare fest tops our coverage of local plays

By David L. Coddon
Othello Richard Thomas (left) and Blair Underwood
- Photo by Jim Cox

There’s almost a court-jester-like giddiness to the infernal scheming of Iago in The Old Globe’s Othello, being staged at the outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. When Iago, the Moor of Venice’s ensign (Richard Thomas), is alone, sharing with the audience his cunning plans to undo the general he despises, his malevolence is more than boastful—it’s electrically charged. That the transparency of his plot and all its machinations can’t not be recognized by Othello, or by anyone else other than Iago’s wife, Emilia (and not until it’s too late), has always seemed to me an impediment to the potency of the play. How could Othello be so duped? He did not “love wisely,” but did he even love “too well”?

That these questions persist nevertheless speaks to the resonance of this Shakespearean tragedy, which launches the Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival under the direction of Barry Edelstein. This is an aesthetically stunning production, with sublimely simple scenic design by Wilson Chin, timely percussive music from the rafters by Jonathan Hepfer and Ryan Nestor (music used to better effect here than in Edelstein’s The Winter’s Tale back in February) and a Desdemona (Kristen Connolly, costumed by Katherine Roth) who couldn’t look lovelier and more angelic.

Thomas revels in his Iago-ing, certainly upstaging Blair Underwood’s Othello. Underwood’s mannered Act 1 orations as proud general and spellbound lover feel self-conscious, though like the character he inhabits, he comes alive when jealousy becomes unbalanced rage in Act 2.

One of the production’s quieter, yet most enduring, scenes is between Desdemona and Emilia (Angela Reed), taking place just hours before Desdemona is murdered. Connolly stills the Balboa Park night with her dulcet rendering of the “Willow, Willow” song, while Reed sounds a strident feminist note that is much needed in this tragedy about men who can be and often are, foolish, vengeful and unworthy of love.

With the live music and moments of choreography, Edelstein’s Othello is for 2014, though blind jealousy and its inhumanity be timeless.

It runs through July 27. $29 and up.

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Bare: A Pop Opera: Life and love get complicated for the students at a Catholic boarding school. Opens July 2 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights.

Geeks: The Musical: A satirical take on the nerds who flock to Comic-Con. Presented by Pysphi Productions, it opens July 3 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest.

The Orphan of Zhao: A reimagined version of an ancient Chinese play about a child who grows up only to learn about the awful tragedies that surrounded his infancy. Opens July 8 at La Jolla Playhouse.

Now playing

Dog and Pony: In this world-premiere musical comedy, things get complicated for a team of screenwriters when one gets a divorce and the other realizes she wants something more than a professional partnership. Through July 6 at The Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

My Son the Waiter, a Jewish Tragedy!: A one-man show written and performed by Brad Zimmerman, who went to New York to try to make it as an actor and then waited tables for nearly 30 years. Through July 6 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. 

Romeo and Juliet: A boy + a girl + a priest + two warring families = tragedy. Through July 20 at the Coronado Playhouse.

Disenchanted: In this musical satire, fairytale females like Pocahontas, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Hua Mulan strike back at exploitation. Through July 26 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista.

Othello: A bitter soldier, Iago, schemes against his general, Othello, and, as usually happens in a Shakespearean tragedy, lots of people die. Through July 27 at The Old Globe Theatre.

Crime Pays: A radio game show with dastardly overtones, served up with dinner, is presented by Mystery Cafe at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill.