Vanessa Ballam as Desdemona and Corey Jones as Othello in PCPA's production of Shakespeare's <em>Othello</em>.

PCPA’s production of Othello, which opened last weekend, allows its audience the courtesy of thought. Somehow it never occurred to me while watching other productions what an easy job Iago has selling hateful lies to Othello. He merely suggests that Desdemona might be unfaithful. Othello, who is played with an anguishing physical grace by Corey Jones, is then swiftly off to plan murderous revenge. And it’s not as if Andrew Philpot’s Iago is lackadaisical in the slimy betrayal department-if anything, he oversells the villainy. But director Patricia Troxel establishes a strong case for individuality in the opening scenes of this smart adaptation, which helps us see the play’s many potential outcomes unfold simultaneously-including the possibility that characters might even change before our very eyes. We believe Othello’s transformation from doting husband to murderer because we know that jealousy simmers below the surface for every fond lover.

The problem with such concentration on Othello’s majestic passions, however, is that the play somehow never becomes sad. As it builds, it becomes an argument for the slipperiness of emotions. A more satisfying (and all-encompassing) way to look at the play’s whole web of relationships is by examining its ritual assessment of trust, and the often bad deals society has to make to keep itself secure. Troxel makes Iago, Othello, and even a minor character like poor Roderigo (Michael Jenkinson) so human and vulnerable that she neglects the inhumanities stacking up against Othello and his love; she seems to lay more emphasis on Desdemona’s lost handkerchief than her smothered innocence. The ending, with its almost Monty Python-esque series of Desdemona croaks from beyond, feels more ironic than it does heartbreaking.

If it isn’t exactly tragic, this production is certainly intelligent and, for the most part, intelligently staged. On a simple multilevel set with a big, decorative shield and a nicely used excluding double door, the stage space is clear enough to allow both royal pageantry and solo riffs. We are drawn in, and even if the play isn’t cathartic, it still gives us ample time to think about the difference between loving and loving too well.


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