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Virginia’s American Shakespeare Center was one of the first theater companies in America to grapple with the pandemic lockdown by streaming webcasts taped in its 300-seat Blackfriars Playhouse, a modern historical recreation of the wood-and-plaster interior of an Elizabethan-style theater built in London in 1596. Now ASC has become one of the first American companies to resume live performances, mounting indoor and outdoor stagings of “Othello” and “Twelfth Night” that can also be viewed online….
Having just written about Florida Repertory Theater’s “Twelfth Night” and longing to see a show of a seriousness befitting the gravity of the present moment, I chose to view “Othello” from the comfort of my apartment in Manhattan. I’ve been impressed by all of ASC’s webcasts to date, but this one, directed by Ethan McSweeny, the company’s artistic director, stands out boldly from its predecessors. Taped with a four-camera setup, it conveys with satisfying clarity the experience of seeing a show in ASC’s Blackfriars Playhouse, and it approaches “Othello” in a way that puts across its immediacy without imposing an anachronistic high-concept overlay on a masterpiece that needs no help to make its ever-relevant points about the viciously corrosive power of racism.
At first glance, this looks like a traditional “Othello,” played without scene breaks on an open stage. The Elizabethan-style costumes are colorful but conventional and the stage is decorated mainly by candles (which are put to show-stopping use). But Mr. McSweeny pulls one jaw-dropping surprise: Othello is played by a woman, Jessika D. Williams, who is more than up to the challenge posed by one of Shakespeare’s most demanding parts and puts her bold stamp on every line….
* * *Read the whole thing nere.
The trailer for Othello: