Aux Dog has stepped up its game. As I mentioned in my last review on the space [“The End of the Beginning,” Jan. 13-19], the theater is relatively young, only about four years old. In that time it’s struggled, like so many startups, to stay open, and as a result it’s taken just about any show it could get. Quality was mixed. But Aux Dog’s fifth season, called Life and Chances, vows to set a new course for the theater. If its most recent production, Othello, is any indication, that course is a damn fine one.
Here I may contradict myself. In my Feb. 10 review of Duke City Repertory’s Taming of the Shrew, I got a little down on Shakespeare, arguing that some of his plays may no longer be relevant. But Othello is one of those scripts that endures. When produced well, it still provides an alarmingly clear window into the nature of some of humanity’s greatest and most despicable vices.
For those who haven’t read Othello since their sophomore year of high school, the storyline is this: Othello is a Moorish general in the Venetian army. He falls madly in love with Desdemona, the gloriously beautiful and devoted daughter of a senator, and the two elope. Othello’s confidante, Iago, secretly despises the general for promoting a younger soldier, Cassio, above him to the rank of lieutenant. Thus, Iago feigns loyalty to Othello while secretly devising ways to destroy him through jealousy, insecurity and madness.
The main actors in Aux Dog’s production are outstanding. Iago, played by theater veteran Peter Shea Kierst, is the true star of the show. The audience is given an inside view of the soldier’s twisted schemes and deviancies through multiple confessional-like soliloquies, and here is where the true insight of the story unfolds. Iago himself is tormented, bitter and jealous. Even though he reveals brief glimpses of conscience, he’s so enslaved by his emotions that all he can think to do is inflict them on Othello. Kierst is a powerful Iago, with such splendid timing and physicality that even the most verbose of his lines are easily understood. He’s captivating, and creepy, and even human enough to relate to ... just barely.
Here I may contradict myself. In my Feb. 10 review of Duke City Repertory’s Taming of the Shrew , I got a little down on Shakespeare.
Likewise, Darryl DeLoach, who plays Othello, is terrific. It’s Othello who undergoes the greatest metamorphosis in the play, from benevolent leader to raging, bloodthirsty lunatic. DeLoach makes this transition with the utmost grace, until he explodes like a bottle of beer shaken violently. His performance is a delight to watch, even when it’s unbelievably sad.
DeLoach has fantastic chemistry with Arlette Morgan, who plays Desdemona. Morgan feels wonderfully authentic in the role, and she has a laugh that breathes life into the jubilant and loving heroine. Desdemona also undergoes a change as she witnesses the devolution of her marriage. She becomes heartbroken, scared and skittish, and Morgan handles the task beautifully. DeLoach and Morgan have the most difficult scene to act, which is as gruesome and raw as it is necessary for the play to make its point. I’m simply stunned by how well they pull it off.
There are a few other cast members who deserve some accolades. Christy Lopez plays the part of Emilia, Desdemona’s attendant. Lopez has charisma. She makes things funny, but only when they should be. In other hands, some of Emilia’s earlier lines could float by unnoticed, but through Lopez’ mannerisms, they provide the only comic relief in the show (and in a show this tragic, it’s appreciated). Still, when it’s time for drama, Lopez is forceful and talented. Brennan Foster’s Cassio is natural and charming. Paul Rodriguez, Jr., who takes on Roderigo, a wealthy man in love with Desdemona, gives a solid, believable performance.
Some of the side actors with smaller parts are stilted and awkward, but they don’t detract from the show much as a whole. The set is simple—some columns and a few levels built on the stage—and it’s effective. Likewise, the costumes are understated and blend into the characters, and it’s to the show’s benefit.
Director Lori Stewart has made gorgeous work of this production. Othello is flush with talent and passion, and it serves as a very good omen for what lies ahead for Aux Dog.