Othello (The Old Globe)

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The Old Globe kicks off its Shakespeare Festival season with Othello, a classic tragedy that is worth seeing, especially with the leads performed by top actors.

Richard Thomas is fantastic in the role of Iago, who betrays Othello, played by Blair Underwood. Mr. Thomas exudes such a wicked aura that one becomes in awe of his character as he goes to great lengths to destroy the Moor of Venice for naming Cassio as the top lieutenant instead of Iago himself. Filled with anger and jealousy, Iago, the master manipulator, convinces Othello that his wife, Desdemona (Kristen Connolly), is being unfaithful with Cassio, which sends Othello in a downward spiral.

Although Mr. Underwood’s Moorish accent sounded as if he were part of a Reggae band, his overall performance was dramatic and filled with emotional energy.

Like most Shakespeare plays in the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre, the set is simplified, allowing the actors to make use of the entire stage. The design of a corrugated foiled wall closing in on Othello as the play progresses is a creative aspect.

In the end, as Othello realizes his insecurities lead to his downfall, one can’t help but despair that Othello couldn’t see through Iago’s lies.

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Richard Thomas (Iago in Othello at The Old Globe) and Theatre Geek

Photo at top: (from left) Richard Thomas as Iago and Blair Underwood as Othello in Shakespeare’s Othello, directed by Old Globe Artistic Director, Barry Edelstein. Photo by Jim Cox.

Water by the Spoonful (The Old Globe)

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On the surface Water by the Spoonful deals with recovering crack addicts and broken relationships, but this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama offers so much more.

We’re first introduced to cousins Elliot (Rey Lucas) and Yazmine (Sarah Nina Hayon) discussing the health of their Aunt Ginny, who soon passes away. For Elliot, the loss of his aunt is especially difficult since she raised him from when he was five, and he considers her his own mother. Soon he is forced to reconnect with his birth mother, and their meeting brings up bad childhood memories and issues of abandonment. Elliot is also struggling with a leg injury from a tour in Iraq, an addiction to painkillers. and haunted visions of a slain Iraqi civilian. Luckily for Elliot, Yazmine, strong willed and well educated, fulfills a motherly role as she nurtures him and provides emotional support as Elliot struggles to adjust to civilian life.

Eventually, we learn that Odessa (Marilyn Torres) is Elliot’s biological mother, who has been estranged from her family since becoming a crack addict, and whose poor parenting skills led to the death of her daughter. Now sober, Odessa spends most of her days running an online chat room to support other addicts in their efforts to get and stay clean. Perhaps this fills the void of having failed as mother and provides her a purpose in life.

As the multi-colored neon tube lights that cross overhead and under the stage floor flicker on, it’s apparent that we are connected to the chat room and are able to meet Odessa’s clan. Each addict has his or her own story and path to recovery. Here we learn the challenges of admitting and overcoming an addiction. It’s a tough journey, but one filled with hope and a second chance at life, a rebirth if you will.

Sometimes small steps are needed to heal wounds, mend relationships, and make peace with the past. Some call it baby steps, others may call it taking it one day at a time. Playwright, Quiara Alegría Hudes calls it Water by the Spoonful.

Photo: Marilyn Torres as Odessa Ortiz aka Haikumom in the California Premiere of Quiara Alegría Hudes’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Water by the Spoonful, directed by Edward Torres.

The Winter’s Tale (The Old Globe)

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In the last few years, The Old Globe has staged plays by William Shakespeare in repertory in their outdoor Festival Theatre with simple sets, minimal props, and many familiar actors as were typical during Shakespeare’s time. After seeing a majority of Shakespeare’s plays in the Festival Theatre, which over time has provided a cookie-cutter type feeling, I was excited to see The Winter’s Tale in The Old Globe Theatre starring Billy Campbell.

The play begins with Leontes, The King of Sicily (Billy Campbell), accusing his pregnant wife, Hermione, and childhood friend, Polixenes, The King of Bohemia, of having an affair. Leontes becomes so deranged that he imprisons his wife for infidelity and demands that his new baby girl be put to death, because he believes she is Polixenes’ child. Soon after, the Queen and their son die, and the King is left alone and without an heir. Meanwhile, Camillo, who has been tasked with the baby’s death, decides instead to abandon her on the coast of Bohemia, naming her Perdita and leaving her with gold in hopes she will be found and cared for, which is exactly what happens. Perdita is rescued and taken in by an old shepherd and his son.

Sixteen years go by, and Perdita falls in love with Florizel, Polixenes’s son, but Polixenes does not approve of the relationship because she is not of noble blood.  Florizel and Perdita go to Sicily, where they are greeted by Leontes, who has realized his mistake in condemning his wife and child and must produce an heir for his kingdom. Polixenes arrives in Sicily as well, and Leontes is eager to make amends with his long-time friend, and soon it is discovered Perdita is Leontes’s daughter. All is forgiven as relationships are repaired, and, in a surprise twist, renewed.

The modern style set with the use of dark to bright colors and dramatic lighting effects really set the mood as the play shifts from tragedy to romantic comedy and then to resolution. The mix of costume styles highlights the play’s capacity to transcend time and made it easy to identify the characters. The creative detail of the pianos (grand, toy, and upright) used right on stage tied in well with each scene.

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Theatre Geek and Billy Campbell at The Old Globe.

This play has all the Shakespearean conventions, and the fresh approach appeals to both long-time Bard fans and novices alike. The Old Globe did an excellent job and made The Winter’s Tale well worth seeing.