A “green-eyed monster” is currently taking center stage at the Theater at Monmouth. But, no fear, the usual high-end programming there hasn’t veered off into science fiction. It’s Shakespeare’s description of the jealousy that fuels the action in his “Othello.”

The tale of the Moor who’s brought down by doubts skillfully planted and nurtured by his supposed friend is familiar to many fans of the Bard. Director Catherine Weidner has mounted an intriguing production that, she hopes, “asks questions of the play.”

Besides setting the action in 1941 (costumes give the production a bit of a “Casablanca” feel), she has adopted a recent trend of having a mixed-race cast, with the roles of both Othello and Iago filled by African-American actors. This, at least visually, skews some of the racial themes within the original play and may lead audiences to reconsider the sources of Othello’s doubt and isolation.

Innovations notwithstanding, Shakespeare’s words remain powerful when delivered by the strong Monmouth cast led by Wardell Julius Clark as Othello and Ryan Vincent Anderson as Iago.

Clark establishes the strength of the great general who impressively serves European masters but is no match for his scheming underling Iago. The anguish meter soars into the red zone as Clark’s Othello succumbs to the doubt sown by Iago as to his wife Desdemona’s faithfulness.

Ostensibly aggrieved at being passed over for promotion and perhaps cuckolded as well, Iago underlines his plotting in several fearsome soliloquies in which Anderson effectively counterpoints the positive view of him held by his many victims. Iago acts for reasons beyond easy explanation and Anderson gives him a feeling both angry and slightly weary.


The larger physical stature of Anderson in relation to Clark may trouble some, but each actor embodies his role in ways that make for a compelling performance.

Though their fates are unpleasant, the women of the play fare better as admirable characters at the mercy of their abusers.

Kelsey Burke’s Desdemona is infinitely reasonable and loving to a husband who too quickly turns on her when his honor is threatened. Her puzzlement and recourse to higher powers (she crosses herself repeatedly) mark her as sadly incompatible with her combustible husband.

Maggie Thompson, as Iago’s feisty wife, Emilia, gets to out the scoundrel in a seize-the-stage moment that effectively cuts through all the deception. Her strong performance resonates.

Lucy Lavely adds her spicy Bianca to a cast that also features Josh Carpenter and Bradley Wilson as Iago’s lovelorn dupes. Mark S. Cartier and James Noel Hoban serve well as put-upon patriarchs.

The multipurpose set includes an impressive wall relief, which, along with occasional recorded music, suggests a dangerous intersection of European, North African and Middle Eastern cultures.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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