Prepare to be amazed. Director Marc Maislen’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Othello,” commands the Newport Performing Arts Center stage starting this Friday, April 5. While this timeless story of love, jealousy, betrayal, potency, racism and gender inequality speaks to modern-day social and political mores, Maislen’s adaptation includes modernized language and a distinctive physical setting.
Maislen’s “Othello” takes place in 2019 underground New York City, with a steampunk culture that embraces the Industrial Age.
“This underground steampunk lifestyle has existed in solitude below New York City for 200 years,” Maislen said.
Maislen endeavored to preserve the storyline and poetics of Shakespeare’s work, while updating the language so audiences could more easily hear and understand the words. The adaptation took him three months to complete; and this production marks the first time “Othello” has appeared on the Oregon Coast.
The dynamics with lead actors Jarvis Simmons as the general Othello and Jeff Wilson as Iago, his trusted lieutenant, sizzle in this epic power struggle. Both actors are pivotal to this production, embodying Othello’s tragic trust and Iago’s villainous manipulations. Simmons has been previously seen in Maislen’s “The Seafarer” and the Red Octopus production “The Full Monty.” Wilson has been a mainstay in Maislen’s productions of “Red,” “Art” and “Speed-the-Plow.”
Simmons, who resides in Eugene, made the commitment to commute at least twice weekly during the rehearsal process. It was on the “off days” that Maislen worked other scenes with the cast of 19 actors.
“It was a robust and challenging schedule,” Maislen said, “as this is a three-hour production.”
Jealousy and envy run deep in this show as Iago conspires to drive Othello mad by insinuating his new wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful. Iago weaves a web of deceit by manipulating all the other characters, controlling their movements and trapping them in lies. He achieves this by getting close, playing on their weaknesses and furthering his control when they refer to him as “honest” Iago.
Pivotal to this plot are the characters Desdemona, (Rosee Robinson); her father, Brabantio, (Rhodd Caldwell); Othello’s captain, Cassio (Ram Papish); Roderigo, in love with Desdemona (William Webster); Emilia, Desdemona’s friend and Iago’s wife (Anna Zimmerman); and Montano (Michael Spivey). Each offers much to make this steamy storyline riveting and credible.
Maiseln said casting also involved the changing of gender in a number of the characters.
“My view of the themes of power naturally spilled into who is wielding the power in ‘Othello,’” he said. “The person in charge of the underground took on a more humanistic nature as a Duchess (Barbara Berge). The top dog, Lodovico (CJ McCarty), naturally took on a different coloration by having a woman making the executive decisions. Even the roles of Desdemona and Emilia were developed with a fresh view of intimacy, and betrayal, between women. They must deal with the questions of personal guilt and the woman’s role in relationships. Altogether, quite a bubbling story, percolating with love, deception and tragedy.”
The set, designed by Maislen, complete with underworld industrialized mechanics, adds a level of mystique to this show’s adaptation. Screens and projected images make the present-day interpretation authentic. Costumes are otherworldly and exciting, with credit to Ruth Wesson and Ram Papish for design. Lighting design and operations are by Ernest Brown, who also serves as technical director. Stage manager is Barbara Perkins, Jed Hansen is sound and projections operator, House manager is Linda Capshaw.
“Othello” runs from Friday, April 5, through Sunday, April 21, with performances from 7 to 10:30 pm each Friday and Saturday and Sunday matinées from 2 to 5:30 pm at 777 W Olive Street. Tickets, $25 for adults and $15 for students, are available at www.coastarts.org, at the box office or by calling 541.265-ARTS.