Exploring race, manipulation, and identity with Shakespeare’s “Othello”

By Jason Comerford | Shakespeare at Notre Dame, August 13, 2018 Arts at ND

[About a 3 MIN read]

“Poison his delight.”

A white man manipulates a powerful black man—a black man married to a white woman. Needless to say, this tale doesn’t have a happy ending. The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice brings all-too-relevant tension to any stage it appears upon, particularly in a world currently beset with racial and social strife.

As times have changed, so too have productions of Othello; thankfully, we are no longer in an era when white actors can perform the title role. Indeed, the NDSF Professional Company’s production of Othello, directed by Cameron Knight, is deliberately set in a contemporary world. More specifically, it’s set within the rigid hierarchies of the military—a setting which provides a powerfully stark contrast to its interpersonal drama.

According to costume designer Sarah J. Smith, “the familiarity of the world and clothes [make] the story more recognizable and personally identifiable.” Smith’s designs for Othello embrace the dichotomies of the setting, “creat[ing] a world in which Desdemona is an outsider in a very obvious way, paralleling the way in which Othello is viewed as an outsider.”

Scenic designer Marcus Stephens has also embraced the contemporary setting through his striking set. Featuring a large circular setpiece and revolving, donut-shaped turntable, the Othello set uses concrete as a primary visual texture, with additional setpieces giving the audience the sensation of a landscape torn apart by war.

For director Cameron Knight, there is no better time to stage Othello than now. “Our country and our global community are overwrought with tension and pain,” he says. For Knight, misplaced love is at the story’s core: “In so many ways we are scrambling and reaching for clarity for safety, for trust. We, at times, place those needs in the wrong place: the wrong leadership, the wrong lover, the wrong friend.” Through this performance, Knight hopes, we can start to heal—and learn.

The Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s Professional Company production of Othello kicks off with two preview performances on Tuesday, Aug. 14 and Wednesday, Aug. 15, with the Grand Opening Gala on Thursday, Aug. 16, beginning at 6:00 p.m. Performances continue through Aug. 26.

For a complete list of showtimes and ticketing information, visit shakespeare.nd.edu

Brothers by blood… or enemies?

A recent production of Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot served as a reminder of the play’s trenchant power—a drama whose potency hasn’t dimmed in the 57 years since its first production. Staged by American Players Theater in Wisconsin, Blood Knot’s thorny story of two brothers (one light-skinned and one dark-skinned) from the same black mother resulted in a controversy over casting and representation. Fitting perfectly within the 2018 Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival’s season exploring the plights of the outcast, the excluded, and the other, our upcoming production of Blood Knot was spearheaded by the Student Players, in collaboration with the Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, who, simply put, wanted to perform it. Previously performed last semester, this powerful drama explores the real meaning of racial identity in today’s world—and the lasting consequences of racial hatred.

Directed by Carys Kresny and starring Eric Ways and Tommy Favorite, Blood Knot will open on Monday, Aug. 13, at 7 p.m., with a second performance Thursday, Aug. 23, at 2 p.m. Both performances will take place in the Philbin Theatre at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center on the Notre Dame campus.

For ticketing information, click here.