Iago and the Great Manipulation  

Iago is a nasty manipulator in the latest production of Othello, which just opened in Stratford on the Festival stage.  Gordon S. Miller’s hate-filled Iago portrays him as an ordinary man who becomes the puppet master, pulling everyone’s strings, unfolding his evil plans.

Othello is a Moor (a black Muslim from North Africa) who now serves in the Venetian army.  He has fallen in love with Desdemona, the beautiful daughter of Brabantio, a Venetian Senator.  Othello has regularly been invited into Brabantio’s home, so he assumed he’d be accepted as a son-in-law.  But racism is evident when Othello and Desdemona elope – Brabantio is angry.  He had hoped his daughter would marry Roderigo.

Othello passes over Iago and promotes Cassio in the Venetian army.  Iago pretends to be Othello’s loving friend, but in his jealousy and arrogance, he starts putting plans in action to bring down Othello.  He convinces Othello that Desdemona is not faithful, and he uses Cassio and Roderigo to back up his lies. 

The play opens with a group of tough-looking characters in hoodies moving about in time to electronic music.  In the background we see Othello’s and Desdemona’s wedding.  Suddenly Iago appears in the middle of the crowd of hoodies.  His role as puppet master begins as they scatter and leave.  Miller is able to let us know that Iago is a bully and his friendliness is fake.  He is deadly in his need for revenge, because he seems like a regular nice guy.

Michael Blake is a compelling Othello.  He commands attention without being conceited.  It makes his transition into a jealous husband all the more frightening.  Amelia Sargisson as Desdemona is genuine – we feel for her when Othello delivers his slap.  Blake and Sargisson have excellent chemistry and give us a wonderfully loving couple until he is under Iago’s spell.

Laura Condlln is excellent as Emilia, Iago’s wife, who is assigned to be Desdemona’s companion.  She is also a member of the army, and stands by, dressed in her camouflage fatigues.  Condlln gives us a self-assured Emilia who grows to see though her husband’s evil plan.

This is another production in modern dress – there are no Shakespearean pumpkin pants or ancient Italian costumes.  The clothing reminds us that this is today – the regrowth of racism, misogyny, and narcissism which are with us now more than ever.

There are no sets in this production.  Everything is projected on screens shaped like a building in the background.  When they visit the senator, Roman columns appear on his home.  When they travel to Cyprus, we see waves on the sea.

Shakespeare’s words in Othello have withstood the years to become sayings we still use today.  Iago has lines such as “Who steals my purse, steals trash”,  “I will wear my heart upon my sleeve”, or “Beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster”.  Othello accuses Desdemona of “Crying crocodile tears”.

Set in a swirl of misogyny and racism, Iago’s arrogance and jealousy take hold, creating one of Shakespeare’s most compelling tragedies.  Stratford’s 2019 version shows the horror of an narcissistic, out-of-control puppet master.

Othello continues in repertory until October 27 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford.  Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca

Photo: Michael Blake as Othello, Amelia Sargisson as Desdemona, with Laura Condlln as Emilia in background.  Photo by David Hou.

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Nigel Shawn Williams
Performed by Michael Blake, Amelia Sargisson, Gordon S. Miller, Laura Condlln, Johnathan Sousa, Farhang Ghajar et al.
Festival Theatre, Stratford
May 27 to October 27, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson




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