Othello captures the devastation of tragic love

In a time of war when ordinary men’s lives can end in a torrent of bullets, it is the green-eyed monster of jealousy and mistrust that is often the fateful undoing of a once-great man. William Shakespeare’s “Othello,” a production by the theater department performed in the Courtyard, captures the true meaning of the term “tragic flaw.”

The play, adapted for theatrical purposes, is set in World War II Italy. The set reflects bunkers and military bases while a giant propaganda poster mirroring Othello’s likeness glares down on the audience, imposing his authority and pride. Actors wear military garb as the actresses don the flirtatious apparel of the 1940s. The costumes’ detail and the set design are not lost on the audience, who feel transported to a time most have only read about in history books.

The innocent victim of Othello’s demise is his devoted wife Desdemona, enacted by Natalie Devine Riskas. Riskas charmed both her stage husband and the audience while still being juvenile and naïve, essential for such an innocent character. Riskas’ performance was both authentic and enchanting. In one scene, Riskas broke down and openly cried alone on stage. This vulnerability captured the hearts of viewers and made them feel genuinely sorry for her.

The most disappointing aspect of the play, if one must named, came from Baron Kelly’s performance of the title character. While his command and composure dominated and bewitched in the first few acts, his descent into destructive behavior was erratic and often uncomfortable to watch. While Kelly is obviously a talented actor, there were moments where he was easily out-acted by the guard on duty.

If a Best Actor award were to be given, the honor would confer on Barrett Ogden for his portrayal of Iago. Widely considered to be the most heinous of all of Shakespeare’s characters, Ogden brought an element of humanity to his performance. Instead of a caricature of sinister evil akin to a mustached villain tying a damsel to train tracks, Ogden’s Iago was substantive as a man who merely wanted, as stated in the film “The Dark Knight,” “to watch the world burn.” Ogden’s presence was commanding and often the most captivating aspect of the play. Even after his demise, Ogden remained true to the blatant horrid nature of Iago and was carried away unrepentant.

Performances of “Othello” are at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 21 through Oct. 1 (excluding Sept. 25 and 29) in the Courtyard. Tickets may be purchased for $3 for students and $5 for all others at the theater ticket office.

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