by Nathan Fuentez
The great Shakespearean tragedy Othello, a bloody tale of jealousy, conspiracy, resentment, and revenge, is one week from its premiere at Fresno State’s John Wright Theatre.
The play is riddled with conflicts concerning xenophobia, racism, and man’s control over women; issues that still have their place in modern times. Director Brad Myers, a Fresno State Theater professor, picked up on the play’s modern nuances. As a result, the Fresno State production will be set in modern times with the dialogue performed in Shakespearean English; reminiscent of the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet.
Myers said the play is reimagined in the United States in the present with Washington D.C. replacing Venice. “It’s fascinating to me at how modern this play is,” Myers said. “We had to do very little to make it really resonate in 2014 American culture.
“The major issues in Othello like racism, the fear of the stranger [xenophobia], the issues between men and women feels very tied in today.”
Not only is the play set in a more contemporary time, but the role of Othello has been double-cast. Two different actors, Myles Bullock and Ryan Christopher Woods, will alternate the role of Othello every other performance.
Myers said this peculiarity arose after Bullock and Woods gave stellar auditions for the production. Myers was unable to choose one Othello over the other so he let the two actors make a compromise. In the end, everyone agreed that double casting the role was a good and somewhat interesting choice.
Myers said he always wanted to put on a production of “Othello”, but up until this point the department never really had an actor with enough finesse and talent to take on the titular role.
Bullock, 23, closed in on his third year as a theater major and has done somewhere in the vicinity of nine productions at Fresno State. “It is definitely interesting being double-cast with Woods,” Bullock said.
“It’s interesting getting to see someone else do the role,” Bullock continued. “I don’t see any difficulties with it. Each of us wanted to have this opportunity because we’re friends, not competitors.”
Woods, 21, is a senior theatre major and has been in more than 15 shows at Fresno State. Woods agreed that seeing his friend Bullock perform the same role of Othello is definitely an experience in itself. The two actors get to watch the play being performed and rehearse at the same time.
One challenge the production is faced with as a Shakespearean tragedy is its lengthy runtime. Myers estimates the play to run two and a half to two and three quarters hours. Myers said this a far cry from its uncut four-hour performance.
“We have cut down the runtime to make it a bit more palatable and to drive the story,” Myers ensured.
Another challenge is having the actors recite Shakespeare and not having it go over the audience’s heads. Bullock said the production has had numerous run throughs of the play, so all the actors know their lines. The challenge is really in the timing.
“The actors have to make it clear and relatable for the audience to understand,” Bullock said. “Everybody needs to be on the same page to make it work.”
Woods stated that the production has had lots of time to fine-tune these intricate details so it should not be a problem.
“The play should be easier to relate to since it is modernized,” Woods said. “It brings new things to the play. Opening night should be amazing.”
Myers and his cast all agree that the audience will just have to see the play in order to make heads or tails of it.
Othello, written around 1603, tells the tale of a great military general in Venice. Othello has risen up through the ranks to get to where he is, but this causes tension within Venice for Othello is a Moor; in other words, he is black. Many agree this is quite a modern twist for a play written over 400 years ago.
The play opens up with Roderigo and Iago discussing Othello’s elopement with Desdemona, the daughter of a white Venetian senator named Brabantio.
Iago is the villain of the play and Roderigo is his lackey. The two characters scheme against Othello as part of Iago’s master plan to get revenge on Othello for passing over a promotion to another military leader, Cassio. Roderigo goes along with Iago’s plan simply for the fact that he believes Iago is helping him get closer to Desdemona, Roderigo’s unattainable love.
Conspiracy ensues and Othello’s world is turned upside-down as the story progresses into a tragic swell of distrust and treachery.
Othello opens on May 2 and runs through May 10 at Fresno State’s John Wright Theatre; For more info and to purchase tickets call (559) 278-2216.
You can find more local entertainment articles in KRL’s Arts & Entertainment section.