I can’t recall a more potent “Othello” than A Noise Within’s current production starring Wayne T. Carr and Michael Manuel in Shakespeare’s story of betrayal and manipulation. Breathtakingly audacious with themes of racial injustice and toxic masculinity that are ubiquitous in our current society, this taut, political psychodrama feels as if it could have been written this year. Director Jessica Kubzansky has set the tragedy in the modern day military and political world and achieves what so many Shakespeare productions fail to do which is to make it feel fresh. Audible gasps were heard opening night from a rapt audience that was with the cast from minute one to the shattering conclusion.
Wayne T. Carr is a stirring, smoldering Othello, a man in full power and newly in love. Carr is a charismatic presence and exudes the command of an outsider who has worked his way up with grit and integrity. As noble as Carr is as Othello, Michael Manuel’s Iago is slippery, oozing jealousy and rage as a man driven mad by his envy of this “Moor”, this black foreigner and his position of power. As Iago sets out to destroy Othello, Manuel unsettles you with a menacing presence as he executes every horrible machination.
Brian Henderson gives a heartbreaking performance as Othello’s lieutenant, Cassio. The way Henderson repeats, “my reputation, Iago, my reputation”, after a drunken incident that costs him his position, is gut wrenching. Iago’s wife, Emilia, is played with fortitude by the fearless Tania Verafield while Jeremy Rabb brings fantastic physical comedy to the role of Roderigo.
Angela Gulner posesses a lovely vulnerability and most welcome verve as Desdemona. Her scenes with Carr crackle with chemistry, making the eventual unraveling of their love all the more devastating.
Kubzansky’s direction keeps the action moving at an exhilarating pace with a fantastic cast working beautifully together on the stark, modern set by Frederica Nascimiento. The fight choreography by Kenneth R. Merckx, Jr. is visceral and military consultant CPT Jack LaZebnik keeps things authentic.
This bold and wildly entertaining “Othello” resonates powerfully, laying bare the ravages of false accusations, manipulation and jealousy in a way that is startlingly relevant.
Tickets for Othello start at $25 and are available at anoisewithin.org, by phone at 626-356-3121, and at the box office located at 3352 East Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena, Calif.