Theater Review: Othello at Agecroft Hall – “Iago sent chills up my spine”
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”
The evening is warm, but with a breeze. The view is gorgeous—majestic trees with glimpses of the James River peeking through. The setting, a small outdoor theater at Agecroft Hall (a Tudor estate originally built-in 15th Century England), is just right. The audience gathers in its finery, settling in for a most pleasant evening of Shakespeare. If you closed your eyes just so, you could imagine yourself in Venice…
But beware, all is not well…
On a quiet street in Venice, a rich man, Roderigo is bemoaning his love of the beautiful, chaste Desdemona to Iago. When Iago informs Roderigo that Desdemona has married Othello, the Venetian Army’s Moorish general, he is convinced to wake Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, and reveal the elopement. Iago steals away ostensibly to warn Othello that Brabantio is coming for him. But Iago’s motivations are not those of Othello’s trusted ensign. Iago in fact hates Othello, who passed him over for the position of lieutenant in favor of Cassio, an inexperienced soldier. Iago, one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains, hatches a plan that will destroy the mighty, heroic Othello…swords may not always kill the man, but jealousy can bring him to his knees.
Deceit, lust, mayhem, debauchery, villainy, and the stirring of the green-eyed monster do not bode well for a happy ending.
Like much of Shakespeare’s works, Othello speaks to themes relevant today: racism, love, jealousy and betrayal. The play could just as easily have been set in 21st-century Florida, say during the trial of a vigilante neighborhood watchman who kills an innocent black passerby.
Though there were a few opening night jitters, the play was well-acted. Stephen Seals’ Othello is imposing, with a deep, resinous voice that commands attention. And Desdemona was skillfully portrayed by Laural Maughan. The supporting cast and ensemble gave strong performances. But it was Dean Knight’s portrayal of the gullible, fumbling Roderigo, and Ryan Bechard’s Iago that stole the show. My heart went out to Roderigo as his love for Desdemona is unrequited. And Iago sent chills up my spine. Shakespeare’s dialogue can certainly provoke that kind of reaction, but it was Bechard’s masterly use of facial expressions—his sinister flirtation with the audience—that was most convincing. If I met him on the streets of Richmond late at night, I’d race to the other side of the road.
There is, indeed, no happy ending here. Iago’s plan leaves death and injury in its wake. Distraught over having killed his beloved Desdemona, Othello’s suicide can be seen as martyrdom, as he kills the only enemy he has left to conquer…himself.
Iago will pay for his crimes, but as he is captured and led to execution, he has the last laugh. With a long, sinister, and chilling cackle…
Performances take place Thursday-Sunday nights at 8pm, July 11-August 4 at the Agecroft Hall and Gardens, 4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, VA 23221.
Julie Harthill Clayton is an out and proud bisexual with a passion for reading, writing . . . and NOT arithmetic. Her work has appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, the Internet Review of Books, Curve Magazine, Lambda Literary and more. She is working on her first novel - Two Tickets to Freedom - a semi-autobiographical queer coming-of-age tale. A paralegal by day, Julie spends her free time knitting, writing, and reading anything she can get her hands on. She lives in Richmond with her partner, local artist David Turner, and their mischievous and loving hunting dog, Max.
Given fuller measure are the funny men.July 11, 2016
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