National Players Present: Shakespeare’s Othello

Keenan Thungtrakul/The Avion Newspaper
Cassio (Dylan Arredondo) has a private conversation with Desdemona (Kelsey Godfrey) in Act III, Scene 3.

Keenan Thungtrakul/Senior Reporter

The night of Jan. 30 featured a performance of William Shakespeare’s Othello by the National Players, a theater troupe that has entered its 69th year of mobile performances. Based out of the Olney Theater Center in Maryland, the National Players embodies the center’s educational philosophy of unleashing the creative potential of both audiences and artists. The troupe accomplishes this by putting on self-sustained productions of Shakespeare and other classic works to audiences of all ages. They construct their own sets each performance and get up close with the audience afterward with an after-show Q&A discussion; something audience members enjoy and it helps the actors get feedback on their performance. The group visited the University last spring to perform John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. Now, the troupe brings one of Shakespeare’s works to life before the Embry-Riddle community.

The show begins with an argument between two characters over a beautiful woman named Desdemona (Kelsey Godfrey). The suitor, Roderigo (Jared Graham), had enlisted the financial aid of his friend Iago (Simon Kiser) so he can make his moves on her. However, the suitor learned that his crush had married a general named Othello (Shaquille Stewart) whose ensign is Iago. Deep within, Iago despises Othello since he was passed over for a promotion to lieutenant. He thinks he deserves the position, but Othello gave the promotion to a certain Michael Cassio (Dylan Arredondo). The two scheme against Othello and attempt to frame him for stealing Desdemona. They go to her father, Venetian senator Brabanzio (Benjamin DeCamp Cole) and accuse Othello of stealing Desdemona, his daughter, by witchcraft. Later, Othello receives a letter from the Duke of Venice requesting his aid in repelling the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Brabanzio heads for Othello’s house and arrests him. However, when Brabanzio tries to make his case against Othello before the Duke and Senate, his plan backfires. They show sympathy towards Othello and give him a chance to testify for himself. He said he won Desdemona’s heart by his own experiences. Desdemona defends her husband and breaks the news to her father. The duke issues Othello his orders, and he departs with his wife and his men that evening.

Fortunately for Cyprus, the invasion force was destroyed in a storm at sea. Othello’s fleet arrives shortly after and hears the news. He plans an evening of wild partying to celebrate. Unbeknownst to him, Cassio makes a move on Desdemona: greeting her by clasping her hand. Behind Cassio’s back, Iago plans to trap him and attempt to dissolve Desdemona’s relationship. Roderigo on the other hand, complains about his failure to court Desdemona behind Othello’s back. Iago counsels his friend by telling him that she would not love Othello for all her life (which is incorrect in Desdemona’s view) and will eventually tire of seeing him. Roderigo’s next move would be to cripple Cassio’s lure since Desdemona will likely go for him after she is s done with Othello. From the looks of it, Othello would be devastated if he lost his dear wife.

The celebration party was filled with drinking and dancing. The National Players modernized the scene to resemble that of a nightclub. Everyone was surely wasted at the end of it. Iago executes his plan, sending Roderigo to pick a fight with a drunk Cassio. He gets ticked off and pursues Roderigo, running into the governor in town. He tries to break up the fight but is injured by Cassio. Roderigo later goes to raise hell in town. Othello had intentions to consummate his marriage with Desdemona, but gets word of the brawl and goes to quell it. Iago tells him Cassio is the culprit and Othello subsequently demotes Cassio. He laments about his reputation being ruined, but Iago, the man who set up this entire scheme, tries to reconcile him by having him and Desdemona pose as lovers, to make Othello jealous. He buys time for Cassio to speak to Desdemona and the conversation ends just as Othello returns. He suspects something is up, and a crafty Iago takes advantage of it. Iago continues his scheme and lies to Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair, and she then tries to have Othello reinstate Cassio as a lieutenant. Othello immediately suspects his wife of being unfaithful to him and she offers her a handkerchief that Othello gave her as a sign of their love to help him come back to himself. However, he drops it, and Emilia (Melissa Carter), Iago’s wife, picks it up, claiming Iago wanted her to steal it for him. Iago, impressed, tells her to put it in Cassio’s room to further validate his lie in Othello’s mind. Othello vows revenge on his wife and Cassio, and Iago lends him his aid. That evening, when Desdemona tells Othello she does not have the handkerchief, Othello is driven mad and storms out. His rage is driven higher when he overhears a conversation between Iago and Cassio about a certain Bianca (Amy Desrosiers) copying the embroidery on his handkerchief. Then, Desdemona comes in with Lodovico (Emily Brown), and Lodovico hands Othello a letter summoning him back to Venice and telling him to put Cassio in his place. That message was Othello’s last straw, and he slaps his wife, calls her a prostitute, and storms out. She and Emilia protest his accusations, but he will have none of it.

Iago tells Roderigo of the final task of his clever scheme: he must kill Cassio. That failed, as Roderigo is killed and Cassio is severely injured. Othello suspects the commotion was Iago
killing Cassio as he said he would in the act of attempted reconciliation.

Othello silently plots the murder of his former love and suffocates her in their bed. He will have none of her pleas. Emilia brings news that Cassio is injured and Roderigo is dead. Spotting Desdemona’s limp body, she cries out in shock. Othello tells her the motive, refusing to acknowledge Desdemona’s claim of suicide. Emilia tells Othello the truth, and the general is brought to tears. He tries to kill Iago, but he escapes, killing Emilia in the process. However, the master villain is arrested, and Othello is to be extradited to Venice and tried for murder. He will not have it, so he goes on a rant about how he wants to be remembered and commits suicide.

Othello is one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, where virtually all of the main cast members are dead by the end of the storyline. In the after-show discussion, one member brought up the key theme of the power of anger to influence a person. The seeds of hatred were planted in Othello, and those sprouts served to bring about his downfall. Another key theme is insecurity and accountability. Everyone should work to overcome their insecurities and remain accountable for their actions. Iago was the main antagonist in the play, and he illustrates how one can scheme against another by instilling jealousy and exploiting weaknesses. Othello let his insecurities about race and adaptation into Italian society get the best of him. He became the victim of confirmation bias, hearing a claim and taking it to be true without validating the facts behind it. The bias egged him on in the wrong direction until he crashed and burned. Interestingly, when it came to the portrayal of women in Othello, there was one character who stood her ground even when faced with threats. In an exclusive interview with The Avion, Godfrey (Desdemona) and Carter (Emilia) described their characters and the friendship these two women shared. Desdemona possessed tragic flaws of her own: she searches for hope in anyone, and that keeps her grounded. However, if she looks for it in the wrong people, then she is in trouble. She and Othello professed true love for one another, but Othello let Iago’s lies draw him away from that fact, using his weaknesses against him. Emilia, on the other hand, thinks she knows the world she lives in, but she does not. She has a more realistic view on things, but her doubt gets the best of her. The friendship shared by Emilia and Desdemona signified their common struggle, living in a society where women were seen as inferior, and often objectified by men. That struggle drew them together, even in those last moments. These themes still teach important lessons for the present time as well. Anger and fear still drive much of our actions. There remains a need to be responsible for our actions and work to overcome our weaknesses and insecurities. Take this performance as a teaching moment and seek to better yourself bit by bit, day by day.