Bringing back the Bard

PSU theater department debuts Shakespeare’s Othello this weekend

“Give me the ocular proof!” Othello shouts, thus illuminating the tragic central element of Shakespeare’s classic play, opening this weekend at Portland State.

PSU theater department debuts Shakespeare’s Othello this weekend

“Give me the ocular proof!” Othello shouts, thus illuminating the tragic central element of Shakespeare’s classic play, opening this weekend at Portland State.


Schemin’ Venetian: Iago, left, tempts Roderigo in Shakespeare’s classic Othello. PSU’s Department of Theatre and Film is performing the play for the next two weekends in Lincoln Hall.

The universities Department of Theatre and Film takes on the Bard in its rendition of Othello, officially premiering tomorrow at Lincoln Hall’s main stage theater. Students can catch a student preview of the play this evening.

After four centuries, Shakespeare challenges even modern-day audiences’ assumptions of how individuals view their reality. This classic tragedy echoes many challenges that PSU students face in their studies: Objectivity and rationality are questioned at every moment. With twisted romantic affairs, an evil villain and nonstop scheming, this production stays true to the original text while making for an exciting evening for all ages.

The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice was written by Shakespeare around the year 1603 and is based on an Italian short story, “Un Capitano Moro.” The play’s titular character is a general in the Venetian army who has recently married Desdemona. Othello’s lower-ranking comrade, Iago, plays deceitful games in order to trick Othello into believing that his wife has not been faithful to him.

Shakespeare’s description of Othello as a “Moor” is a constant source of debate for modern interpretations of the play: Some have taken this to mean that Othello has black skin, has darker features or that the term black used in the play may be a metaphor for an unsavory character trait. Whatever one’s interpretation, race has historically been an important factor in the staging of Othello.

“While race hatred is used as a weapon in the play, the work is about slander, and how easily we believe gossip, innuendo and lies about other people,” said Devon Allen, a theater arts professor at PSU and the play’s director.

Allen’s vision of the play focuses heavily on how its characters, namely the villainous Iago, wreak havoc on people’s relationships. While a modern audience may not think Shakespeare’s time was as gossip-infected as our tech-savvy generation, Allen notes that most legal cases in Britain at the time involved allegations of slander.

“When many hide behind social media outlets…they can retain their cowardly anonymity and do much damage to reputations and lives,” Allen said.

For the actors taking on the roles in the play, the complicated interplay of characters and schemes can be a challenge to portray.

“For me, [my character] is very different from myself all around,” said Talon Bigelow, who plays Othello. “Othello is cooler than me—more intimidating. It’s a part that’s very out of the box for me. It’s a challenge. If I do it right; I’ll be exhausted after every night.”

Sam Morrison, who plays the duplicitous Iago, finds there is a fine line between relishing a role and going overboard.

“One fear is that I allow myself to indulge in [Iago’s evil nature] because it’s really fun to be sinister and dark,” Morrison said. “[Iago] makes other people move the plot so he is never directly in the spotlight by his own working.

“He’s called ‘honest Iago’ probably more times than he’s called ‘Iago’ in the play. Everybody thinks he’s the best guy,” Morrison said. “It’s a testament to how good he is at hiding these tendencies.”

PSU’s Department of Theatre and Film presents
Othello by William Shakespeare
Preview: Thursday, Nov. 8, 7:30 p.m.

Performances: Friday, Nov. 9, through Sunday, Nov. 11; Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.

Wednesday, Nov. 14, through Saturday, Nov. 17, 7:30 p.m

Lincoln Hall, main stage theater
$12 general admission; $8 students; $6 student preview

Both Bigelow and Morrison acknowledge that historically there is a long history of onstage and offstage rivalry between actors who play Othello and Iago. But Morrison was quick to note, “There hasn’t been any terrific animosity between us.”

Morrison thinks that any possible animosity between the actors playing Iago and Othello stems from the script itself.

“I like to think that Shakespeare did that on purpose, where Othello gets all the grandeur and everything, and the poster, and all the photo shoots and everything,” Morrison said. “And Iago? I don’t get a woman. I don’t get a poster. Nobody’s calling me for interviews.”

For both actors, the chance to enact these dueling roles on stage will allow attendees to see that the story is relevant to a contemporary audience.

“The way this interpretation of this play is going, this could happen to anyone,” Bigelow said. “It’s relatable in a scary way―if you believe everything that you hear and have too much trust and not enough logic. It’s definitely a cautionary tale.” – Interview with the cast of Othello