Regional Reviews: Chicago
Also see John's review of The Flick
Of course the source of this tension is the villainous Iagomaybe the best-written villain everand this production has a great Iago in Michael Milligan. An actor with credits on Broadway and in leading regional theaters all over the country, and per his program bio a recent transplant to Chicago, he gives us a multi-layered and intriguing Iago. To borrow from Julius Caesar (which Munby directed at Chicago Shakespeare three years ago), Milligan has "a lean and hungry look" but is dangerous because his sociopathic tendencies aren't evident on the surface. To those he manipulates and betraysOthello, Roderigo, his wife Emiliahe appears normal and trustworthy. As Hitchcock once said, "the more successful the villain, the more successful the picture," and this greatest of all villains is given a performance here quite worthy of the role.
James Vincent Meredith has the necessary rage and physical presence to communicate Othello's rage and danger. In initially appearing to be kind and generous to his wife Desdemona and his lieutenant Cassio, his turning on them so quickly after Iago causes him to suspect they are having an affair seems a bit abrupt. Even so, Meredith's sheer power carries the play to its tragic conclusion. Luigi Sottile is a lean and muscular Cassio with both the masculinity and sex appeal to be a credible romantic rival to Othello, but at the same time appearing to be a most decent man who wouldn't go there. The Stratford Festival's Bethany Jillard is a lovely and innocent Desdemonatrusting her new husband and the others around her until it's too late to save herself. As the hapless Roderigo who is fatally lured into Iago's plan as a mere pawn, Fred Geyer shows comic skill. Chicago actress Jessie Fisher also impresses as Emilia, who, like Desdemona, figures out the plot too late, but forcefully delivers some of Shakespeare's most feminist rhetoric before she goes.
Munby's Othello is a muscular and sexy one. With just four women in the castthe lovely Melissa Carlson is cast as the Duke of Venice in addition to Laura Rook's very funny turn as a sexy Italian accented Biancathe sexual tension among the soldiers is palpable. We see how women are in short supply on this military outpost on the island of Cyprus and how it's driving the soldiers crazy. In a nod to the film Top Gun, the soldiers even serenade Desdemona with a chorus of "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling." Munby's production is a great addition to the Shakespeare 400 Chicago celebration. It's the real deal with the original text, and a modern dress concept that is not at all contrived but makes the story more accessible to today's audiences without compromising the original intent.
Othello will play the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier through April 10, 2016. For tickets or further information visit www.chicagoshakes.com or call 312-595-5600.