Othello Presented by the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival at the Goldman Theater, Orlando, Florida. February 26-March 28, 2004. Directed by Richard Width. Set by Bob Phillips. Costumes by Denise Warner. Lighting by Eric T. Haugen. Sound by James Cleveland. Fights and Combat by Tony Giacomelli and Richard Width. With Esau Pritchett (Othello), Eric Hisson (Iago), Sarah Hankins (Desdemona, Servant), Suzanne O' Donnel (Duke of Venice, Emilia), Timothy Williams (Cassio, Servant), Chris Taylor (Roderigo, Officer), Mark Brotherton (Brabantio, Officer, Lodovico), and Becky Fisher (Senator, Montano, Bianca, Servant).
The Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival (currently celebrating their fifteenth anniversary) gave their first Shakespeare performance of the season with Othello. When the Festival premiered in the fall of 1989, it offered only two performances, both Shakespeare (Taming of the Shrew and The Tempest). Now housed in their own theater complex, they appear to be branching out, staging Cyrano de Bergerac, Private Lives, and an adaptation of Dracula alongside Othello and Antony and Cleopatra. I point out these changes in the company's repertoire as I think they demonstrate a shift in the group's dramatic emphasis. Their Othello attempted novelty, but gave little that was innovative. I felt the production did, however, present the pitiful spectacle of Shakespeare's difficult tragedy.
The primarily traditional production employed the novel to spice up the theatrical experience. The rousing up of Brabantio began the performance. The small Goldman Theater seats just over one hundred, and the director employed the aisles, flashlights, scattered voices, and a nervous confusion that set the tone for the production. Act two's storm allowed for more flashing lights and loud clattering. Sound was used rather unsparingly, though it added to the "spectacle" of the play. That spectacle turned morbid as blood spurted from the bodies of Cassio, Roderigo, and Othello himself. Meanwhile, the sets, generally bare, were a less sensational element. In a theater of such small size, the air of intimacy was not marred by unnecessary set changes or property movements. Instead, the minimalist approach employed by Bob Phillips helped us focus on the actors. What seemed strange, however, was the contrast between the understated nature of the sets and the more vocal nature of the costuming.
Both the Duke of Venice and Montano were female; the first wore a business skirt, while the second wore the same uniform as the officers. Denise Warner's designs for Desdemona similarly mixed the feminine with the masculine. The Moor's wife appeared almost exclusively in trousers, often accented by flowing jackets that included shoulder pads. The effect, according to Sarah Hankins (Desdemona), was to "toughen up" the image of the doomed wife. Yet to this viewer, it seemed to further sexualize her character--reminding the audience of a dominatrix. This dominating image, however, was often clouded: after the fight at the end of act two, Desdemona appeared clad only in a silk robe gathered at the waist by a rope belt, the gown balanced precariously off her shoulders and giving us a glimpse of a tattoo. …