Shakespearean drama is rife with jealousy and revenge, but nowhere is it more pronounced or its consequences more eloquently captured than in Othello. In the Denver Center Theatre Company's current production of the tragedy of the Moorish Venetian general, artistic director Kent Thompson makes a series of compelling choices that lead to a solid production, though it falls short of its full potential.

Robert Jason Jackson as Othello
Robert Jason Jackson
as Othello
Photo: Terry Shapiro
That the tragedy be Othello's and not a melodrama led by Iago depends largely on the disposition of the latter, who has more lines than the fallen hero. In John Hutton's natural and fluid portrait, Iago moves easily from lie to lie without drawing excessive attention to his underlying evil nature, not only evoking some genuine laughs from the audience for his duplicity, but paving the way for Othello to seize our hearts and minds as he plays out his tragic flaws. Hutton's Iago is a man who thinks quickly on his feet, spontaneously keeping his story straight with his many victims and deftly maximizing every situation to his own advantage.1

John Hutton as Iago and Robert Jason Jackson as Othello
John Hutton as Iago and
Robert Jason Jackson as Othello
Photo: Terry Shapiro
From the first moments, when we learn that Iago will be revenged on Othello for passing over him for lieutenant commander, the story becomes a master class in the manipulation of perceptions, emotions, and behavior. Four persons pay for this with their lives.

The clarity of Iago's strategy and other key moments are clouded by Thompson's daring but flawed choice of staging in the round at the company's Space Theatre. This is not just a matter of the fourth wall continually moving (as it must with Iago's asides to the audience), which is distracting to the mind and the ear, but seems to diminish the effect of the turning points, with the characters unable to give pause and ponder while taking that extra beat to emphasize the choice, instead making crucial choices seem casual and leaving us without references for outcomes.

(L to R) Kathleen McCall as Emilia and Meghan Wolf as Desdemona
(L to R) Kathleen McCall as Emilia
and Meghan Wolf as Desdemona
Photo: Terry Shapiro
For example, when Emilia (Kathleen McCall) picks up the handkerchief that Desdemona has wrapped around Othello's head and which he has tossed aside in his anger and despair, we must not only understand Emilia's guilelessness in the matter, we also, later in that same scene, must begin to see inklings of the strength that Emilia will show when she tells off Othello and Iago at the end of the play; but the staging does not get this across. McCall's powerful work in the final scene would have been bolstered by such presaging.

Robert Jason Jackson as Othello and Meghan Wolf as Desdemona
Robert Jason Jackson
as Othello
and Meghan Wolf
as Desdemona
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Othello's (Robert Jason Jackson) key moments are also diluted, as he strolls or turns this way and that, so that everyone can catch a piece of his speech, while the opportunities for concentrating on the complexities of character—nobility, passion, eloquence, trust, love, anger, confusion, and despondence—are flattened in sacrifice to the space and the elusive and, at times, culturally constraining setting. One wonders whether economic considerations—to hold an audience-expanding, but theatrically thin, musical review on the main stage—engendered these choices.

Meghan Wolfe as Desdemona
Meghan Wolf as Desdemona
Photo: Terry Shapiro

Desdemona's motives are the clearest and Meghan Wolf keeps them that way in a well-measured and resolute performance that underscores the heroine's intelligence and purity of heart. It is no wonder that Cassio believes her capable of restoring his reputation2 and that Emilia's loyalty to her exceeds that for Iago.

The ensemble is impressive throughout, particularly David Iver's spurned and desperate Roderigo, Philip Pleasants' scathing Brobantio, and Harry Carnahan's talented yet unguarded Cassio. Randy Moore, Stephen Weitz, Geoffrey Kent, John Arp, and Allison Pistorius also shine.

John Hutton as Iago and David Ivers as Roderigo
John Hutton as Iago
and David Ivers as Roderigo
Photo: Terry Shapiro
In the aftermath of the tragic results, when order is restored, we wonder at the ease with which a gifted liar can manipulate the perceptions of a great leader and destroy him. This speaks volumes not only regarding the playwright's hard fought realizations about his own life, but to our own vulnerability to those who would manipulate information to serve their greedy and nefarious purposes.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Othello runs through May 1st. 303-893-4100 or

1 Rowland Yorke is the most likely candidate for de Vere's Iago. Yorke served as a lieutenant (the rank to which Iago aspires) in the Dutch wars of independence. York introduced a dangerous, thrusting rapier technique to England. Iago brags that he often "Yerk'd ... (opponents) under the ribs."

During his career, Yorke was found guilty of treason, forgiven, and later twice betrayed allied positions to Spain. Iago, too, is able to sustain a multitude of lies simultaneously, leveraging every situation to benefit his objective to bring down Othello.

The name Iago is likely taken from Santiago (St. James), the patron saint of Spain. At the time the play was first written and produced at court as a skit (A Moor's Masque, March 3, 1579), de Vere was lobbying against a possible marriage between Elizabeth and a Spanish suitor. Later, the play was revised, as was much of the canon. It was first published in 1622 by de Vere's youngest daughter, Susan de Vere Herbert, just prior to her publication of the First Folio, years after de Vere's death, but in time to provide dissenting commentary on the potential marriage of King James' son, Prince Charles, to the Spanish Infanta Doña María.

Yorke's house is where de Vere stayed when he first returned from the continent. William Cecil, Lord Burghley, de Vere's one-time guardian and later father-in-law, complained that Yorke was poisoning de Vere's disposition toward Anne Cecil, de Vere's wife and Burghley's daughter. De Vere thought that Anne's pregnancy, following his departure to the continent, was another man's doing. His outrage and later change of heart serve as the basis for de Vere's adaptation of the original (more gruesome) Italian tale, as well as Much Ado About Nothing, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Cymbaline, and The Winter's Tale.

Yorke died in 1588, reportedly by poison. His body was later exhumed by the Dutch, who hung it like a scarecrow, recalling the Duke's words to Cassio in the final scene, to torture Iago as he wishes: "The time, the place, the torture. O, enforce it!"

2 Reputation is a major theme in Othello. Burghley provided some inspiration for the approach, when he wrote "The greatest possession that any man can have is honor, good name, good will of many of the best sort." De Vere was fond of Burghley's platitudes, which are most prominent in Polonius ("To thine own self be true ..."; "Neither a borrow nor a lender be ..."; etc.), but this one shows up on the tongue of Iago:

Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls.
Who steals my purse steals trash, 'tis something, nothing;
'Twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.

3 Michael Cassio is a poke at Sir Philip Sidney, a fellow with whom de Vere had some serious run-ins and whom de Vere skewered as Slender in The Merry Wives of Windsor and as Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night.


Current Reviews | Home | Webmaster