Fast-paced, articulate cast shines in Viking-themed Othello

I saw my first Food for Groundlings show this weekend. It won’t be my last.

I see a lot of theater, and am used to seeing professionals here or there stutter or jump a line. But the actors in Othello at CCAC Sunday night really impressed me with their mastery of Shakespeare’s verbiage. Desdemona in particular took my breath away as she defended herself against Othello’s accusations, ploughing through the Elizabethan syntax with energy and confidence. She also nailed the slow-and-tense moments — the “Willow” scene was haunting and touching, just as it should be, and her climatic scene with Othello was creatively blocked and well-executed.

Othello handled a very difficult character transition, from capable military leader to paranoid abusive husband. I’ve seen other productions where Iago seems to be forcing Othello to make this change, but in this production Iago just seems to give Othello a push and things work out this way due to flaws in Othello’s character, which is I think an effective call for period tragedy. In the script, Iago’s stated motives (careerism? jealousy? racism?) are so shifting that I think trying to give Iago a realistic motive is problematic.

Emilia does a great job performing as if she thought she was playing the quirky sidekick in a romcom (laughing off barbs from her husband and paying him back in kind), until events reached a point of no return. Cassio was flawed and likeable, Roderigo skulking and pathetic, and Iago played the manipulator deliciously throughout.

The drunk scene and the fight scenes were all well done. Some awkward moments pulled my focus in the middle of action sequences when multiple characters have to stand around doing nothing while dialogue happens, but that comes with the genre. Sets, lighting, costumes, sound design, props — all impressive. I’m happy to see a Shakespeare production set anywhere at all, so long as it the production doesn’t distort the text, and the Viking setting looks great.

There’s a second weekend of shows. Catch it if you get the chance.