Spirited tragedy: Sundown Collaborative’s OTHELLO

Attending a production of Shakespeare’s Othello is like watching a high profile match between two of the world’s greatest prizefighters. Its success depends on the relationship of its two main characters, no matter who else exists in the play or how it’s produced. Othello v. Iago: a classic battle between the soul of integrity and the heart of darkness begins and ends with these two.othello.sundown.09

Sundown Collaborative in Denton is a fledgling theatre company with vision firmly focused on an honest prize – the creative realization of genuine art. The company’s production values and amenities are minimal, the faithful exploration and enactment of its chosen theatrical text exemplary. In their current modern dress adaptation of Othello the dynamic, convoluted, enmeshed relationship created by Andrew Aguilar in the title role and Sean Ball as his ensign Iago rivet the audience’s attention from unsettling start to chaotic finish.

Aguilar is a stocky, broad-shouldered actor with a commanding, patrician presence and vibrant, healthy aspect. It’s easy to imagine him as a noble Moorish general, equally at ease in command of his soldiers or genially circulating at Venetian state affairs where his dark complexion would lend exotic appeal and gain female admirers. In contrast, Sean Ball is a slight man, fair haired and pale complexioned. His agitated awkwardness and homespun speech patterns immediately establish him as a lower class, opportunist grunt. He’s exceedingly ambitious, frustrated to obsessive rage by Othello’s promotion of career soldier-bureaucrat Cassio (played with convincing workmanlike soldierly demeanor by Drew Maggs) to a position of authority instead of his more worthy self.  Ball’s Iago weaves his revenge plot, entrapping the unsuspecting Othello, with chilling, credible precision. Ball creates Iago as a man who advances his interests by masterful manipulation and narcissistic will. He’s venial, predatory, reptilian, a conjurer of evil subterfuge. He dances around Othello like a feral beast silently stalking its prey, priming the precise moment to sink his fangs in with dissembling guile. Aguilar plays Othello as grounded and logical, a straightforward leader who sets high conduct standards for himself and expects his soldiers to follow suit without question. Blind to the target he makes of himself, Aguilar’s Othello never suspects Iago’s treason; it’s just not in his noble nature. The fine-tuned symbiosis between these actors exhibits a level of nuance and sophistication that would be admirable in performances by more mature, experienced actors. Both men are currently UNT students; their portrayals are solid accomplishments and reflect as well on director/ adapter and recent UNT graduate David Hanna.

In his director notes, Hanna says, “We had to look for a common truth between Shakespeare’s present and our own…to make Othello our own. Our Othello parallels the current conflict in the Middle East, not to take a political stand, but to connect Shakespeare’s tragedy to our own time.” Hanna believes the play’s essential emotion, unbridled jealousy, drives all the action and its resulting destruction. He keeps his main actors focused on their internal emotional struggles and allows the action to explode forth naturally as logical result of their pent up, conflicting motives and desires. The surging ebb and flow, reflective moments smacked up hard against fast-played scenes of intense physical violence, keep the play far from any static declamatory ambience.

The balance of Hanna’s cast, most UNT students and some in first stage appearances, work effectively as an ensemble.  Lauren Rosen gives a particularly haunting performance as the doomed Desdemona, revealing strength and passion along with brave resignation as her death approaches. Hers is no simple ingénue portrayal. Cody Lucas as Desdemona’s dim-witted, petulant suitor, the secondary character Roderigo, mirrors Iago’s overblown jealousy on a diminutive scale, bringing out its ludicrous, petty aspects and contrasting with the deeper tragedies of the deaths of Othello and Desdemona. Lucas captures the essence of his pitiful character, even with limited stage time or lines.
Occasionally the modernized adaptation bogs down in translation or the background sound/music overpowers the actors’ voices. Small complaints about a valid effort to bring a major tragedy triumphantly to life on stage.  Sundown Collaborative strives “to provoke thought and incite discussion”; their Othello warrants much contemplation and spirited exchange.

Othello continues Wednesday May 20, Thursday May 21 and Friday May 22 at 8pm
Greenspace Arts Collective
529 Malone Denton, TX 76201
http://www.sundowntheatre.com

CAST:
Othello: Andrew Aguilar
Iago: Sean Ball
Desdemona: Lauren Rosen
Emilia: Kristy Riffle
Cassio: Drew Maggs
Roderigo: Cody Lucas
Duchess/Bianca: Sarah Dowling
Montano: Ben Darling
Lodovico: Sam Harless
Brabanzio: Daniel Tuttel

Music & Sound:

Prelude – “Black Betty” by Nick Cave
going into II.i – “4th of July” by Soundgarden
II.ii (party) – “Yu-Gung (Remix)
going into III.i – “Is She Weird?” by The Pixies
III.iii (marriage ceremony) – “Lux Aeterna/Convergence” by Johnny Greenwood
opening Act 2 – “Wings Off Flies” by Nick Cave
IV.ii – “Falshgeld
V.i (fight scene) – “Ich Bins”
red scene in V.ii – “Tropar”
Curtain Call – “Mea Culpa” by Brian Eno and David Byrne

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