It is a tale of jealousy, selfishness and the downfall of a once great man. And for the first time, people can see a live performance in Utah Valley.
“Othello,” directed by Dr. James Arrington, has never been performed in Utah Valley before. The Shakespeare play tells the story of Othello, a moor whose weakness for jealousy and mistrust is aggravated by the character Iago, often considered the most evil of all of Shakespeare’s characters. Instead of a performance based in Renaissance tradition, it has been adapted to the warfront of WWII, a setting dominated by men.
The female lead is played by junior Performance Theater major Natalie Devine Riskas. Riskas describes the play as the story of the downfall of a great man.
“It deals with so many issues,” Riskas said. “It deals with jealousy when it’s nurtured. Othello is this great and mighty man but everyone has flaws. It’s human nature.” Originally from London, Riskas’s British accent occasionally slips out when she speaks. Riskas moved to Utah when she was 12 years old when her father, a golf pro, was asked to coach at BYU.
Riskas plays Othello’s wife, Desdemona, the innocent victim of Iago’s manipulation and Othello’s unchecked jealousy.
“She’s a saint, an angel,” Riskas said. “That’s why she’s such a challenge to play.” Recently married herself, Riskas described Desdemona as lovable, obedient and playful.
“She’s also young and naive,” Riskas said.
Playing opposite of the slender Riskas in the title role is Baron Kelly, a tall African-American with a deep booming voice.
Kelly, who is both an accomplished actor and academic, became Othello by happy accident.
“James [Arrington] met one of my friends at the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival and said he hadn’t found his Othello yet,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s friend recommended him to Arrington, believing Kelly would fit in not only with the college-age cast but also with the style and theme Arrington was envisioning.
“It’s one of those serendipitous things,” Kelly said.
While it was Kelly’s acting abilities that got him the role of Othello, it was his accomplishments in academics that got him a teaching position as well.
Kelly earned his Masters in acting and Ph.D. in Theatre History, Criticism, Literature and Theory with a minor in Shakespeare/Renaissance Studies and Scandinavian Literature. He is currently teaching Acting for Film and Special Topics in Theater Acting: Shakespeare, here at UVU.
Kelly has been a professional actor since he was in middle school. He attended the High School of Performing Arts before moving to London to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Kelly describes himself as a “citizen of the world,” having travelled all over the globe. He has performed and held academic appointments in Taiwan, Finland, Italy, Germany, Columbia, Greece, Russia and many more. While this is his first time at UVU, Kelly has been to Utah before, performing at the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City and participated in Sundance Institute Theater Program. Kelly has also been approached to come back in February for the campus’s 17th Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration.
Riskas feels fortunate to get a chance to work with him.
“It’s amazing how having Kelly has catapulted our rehearsals,” Riskas said. “Everyone has really stepped up their game.”
Riskas related how nervous everyone was before they met Kelly. Riskas described how, when Kelly walked in to meet the cast, “he shook everyone’s hand and learned their names.”
Working closely with Kelly, the cast has deepened their understanding and love of Shakespeare, reminding them why his works are still performed today.
“Shakespeare understood human nature,” Riskas said. “It makes you think. It leaves ideas imprinted and resonating in your mind.”
Othello runs from Sept. 21 to Oct. 1 in the Student Center Courtyard. Tickets cost $3 for UVU students and $5 for general admission. Standing room outside of the courtyard bowl is free. Tickets may be purchased on the Theater Department’s website.