Good Villain

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Richard Thomas as Iago. Photo by Jim Cox.

What I find interesting about the play Othello is that Iago who isn’t the main character demands attention to the point of making himself the main character. Sometimes a story begins with thoughts of a main character or two and often the writer doesn’t set out to focus on this supporting character. It could be that Richard Thomas, John Boy from “The Waltons” plays Iago, but I don’t think so. It certainly helps. Shakespeare writes Iago in the first scene showing he’s a liar as Roderigo played by Jonny Orsini says Iago has access to his money. Iago denies it. The way Thomas discards a match in the air with no care of his surroundings shows us how despicable this Iago is. We know this guy is a villain, but he is likeable and entertaining.

What makes a likeable villain?

Thomas’ Iago has no redeeming qualities. He makes us laugh with the written word. There is one part that doesn’t take away from nor give to the play. It is a side of Iago we like. He’s playful and doesn’t believe he is doing wrong. He believes he is only helping the people do what they would have done anyway. In Cyprus as they are at war for a long time, the military men party with the local women. The live music halts then Thomas dances around singing the beat with a bottle of wine. He fills the cup of Cassio played by Noah Bean in hopes to cause a fight between him and Roderigo. This happens a few more times with Thomas giving a thrust of the hips at the end of his display with a “Pow!” He’s fun and despite his grotesque flaws we like him.

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Kristen Connolly as Desdemona and Blair Underwood as Othello. Photo by Jim Cox.

Another part of the play that calls my attention is when Othello played by Blair Underwood has his wife Desdemona played by Kristen Connolly follow him to Cyprus. (Yes, this is the Blair Underwood from “Ironside” and “Sex and The City.”) It seems a bit strange that the women would be so close to their men in war time. I’m not a historian, but perhaps this was the way when the wars were long. Othello isn’t Shakespeare’s longest play, but I did expect the Globe’s production to be longer. Director Barry Edelstein did cut out some of the play, but it didn’t make a negative impact.

Original music composed by Curtis Moore sets the mood in the first scene as Thomas’ Iago walks in with the ensemble hitting sticks and pounding rods. We get a play and a concert with musicians Jonathan Hepfer and Ryan Nestor in the veranda of the stage. Sound effects are heard under Underwood’s monologue adding intensity.

Not only were there stars on stage, but stars in the audience. Melinda Clarke made an appearance with her beautiful red hair. She is unmistakable. I am a fan of hers in “The O.C.” Funny, Renaissance Man and I saw Ben McKenzie from “The O.C.” at the Globe’s Shakespeare Festival some years ago.

I visited The Old Globe gift shop and bought a few things. I love pencils. I should have seen the collecting of pencils as a sign that I should be a writer. The pencils are black with The Old Globe written in bronze with the insignia of the theatre. I also couldn’t resist a William Shakespeare Air Freshener in Shakespearmint.

Before the show Renaissance Man and I enjoyed the newly revamped Balboa Park in San Diego where The Old Globe finds its home. The bridge is now open and the parking by the art museum and turn-about is taken out so people can rent a surrey and ride around or walk without having to stop for a car. We ate at The Prado restaurant for the first time. It is festively decorated with painted dark walls and large windows to view the patio covered in hanging lights and red and purple umbrellas. Inside, art inspired by Dale Chihuly creates lighting as a lamp and an entrance piece. The food is good, but the service could be better. I prefer to have my food staggered rather than all of it in front of me getting cold. I saved room for the brownie at the Globe’s café which serves soup in a sourdough bowl. It’s another option for a light dinner close to the theatre.

Edelstein’s Othello has definite memorable parts that are evenly distributed. I will remember Thomas’ Iago dancing devilishly, sharing in the experience of Underwood’s Othello having a seizure and Connolly’s sad, drawn-out death with choking sounds that made me cry. Shivers.

Othello by William Shakespeare directed by Barry Edelstein runs from June 22 – July 27, 2014 at the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. (This is an open-air theatre so bring a sweater and blanket.)

The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego, CA, 92101 Phone (619) 231-1941.