When I first found out that I was to write a preview of the Armstrong Masquers production of Shakespeares Othello, I was less than thrilled.
I imagined the sad and boring story that so many of my past English teachers made my literature classes stumble and sleep through. Whoop-tee-do, some guy kills some people and then himself.
And then I attended a rehearsal. Wow. Boring Shakespeare? I think not.
Directed by Kirk White, the principle cast includes Arron Momon (Othello), Judit Feketon (Desdemona), Kim Swale (Iago), Justin Chernivec (Rodrigo), and Austin Clough (Casio), all students from White's Play Production class at AASU.
One of the plays strongest assets is the camaraderie among the cast. They have a chemistry that is there not because it had to be, but because they're all friends.
It's kind of hard to not be around each other, laughs Swale. We're around one other all the time. We go to class and rehearsals together and we hang out in between.
Besides the stage chemistry, White's version has another aspect that is blatantly different from traditional Othello productions: Iago is played by a woman.
When I was casting, I could pretty much tell within a few moments of the person opening their mouth who they would be, says White. But with Iago, no one was clicking. So, by chance, Kim read for Iago and she just nailed the part.
Rumors started swarming about the character's sexuality -- Iago is married -- but White firmly states that the choice was made based purely on Swayle's handle on the role.
I'm not trying to make a political statement here. I want to make art, that's what I'm in it for. The plain fact is she won that role.
And how does Swale feel about it? I'm a little intimidated. Hamlet is my dream role, so when I got the part of Iago I was like, 'Hey, this can be done.'
Another another refreshing point is that White and his cast are not under the popular theatre assumption that the audience is... well, for lack of a better word, stupid.
We're giving the audience some credit here in that we're not going to spoon feed this play to them. We're keeping the language, and I've edited out some scenes that are a bit irrelevant to the play as a whole in order to bump up the intensity a bit, explains White.
I want it to be cold and scary and horrific and organic, something that's tangible. I want the audience to leave with their stomachs in knots and not be able to breathe until final curtain.
This is a truly suspenseful horror show, says Justin Chernivec. We're playing the worst part of man and what drives him there.
Both cast and crew have been working on developing and creating the play since August.
We spent about a month doing research, watching old horror movies together, just getting into the groove of things. The real nitty-gritty rehearsals started in about mid-September. They've put a lot of work into this, says Swale.
I've been studying the script like it's the Bible just trying to get into Othello's mind, trying to learn how to slowly work into the different mannerisms as he's going insane, says Arron Momon.
As much as the cast got into playing their characters, I found it amusing that when I asked each what their favorite scenes where, they all referred to death scenes.
As Chernivec points out, Death allows more emotion to come through. In death, there's a tense rise and fall of emotion that you have to have in order to achieve that true effect. That rise and fall make the play come alive.
Othello will be shown Nov. 12, 13, and 18 at 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 20 at 3:00 p.m. at Jenkins Theatre at AASU.