Othello explores the comedic side of tragedy on stage in Toronto
The Ale House Theatre’s Othello opens with the cast standing on stage. Slowly, they begin to belt out a wordless tune. The harmony is slightly eerie. It’s reminiscent of church bells, but without any indication whether the bells are sounding for joy or for sorrow. Their voices fade and they return backstage, leaving the audience to wonder about their cryptic song.
The story of Othello, the Moore of Venice, is one of Shakepeare’s famous plays. As with most Shakespearean tragedies, it tells the tale of a successful and revered person who quickly tumbles from grace. Othello’s fall in particular can be blamed on the sharp-tongued Iago, or–depending on your perspective–on his own vile thoughts that were beneath the surface all along. As with Iago’s slippery way with words, the truth is always up for interpretation.
The character performances were absolutely spot on, and all the actors embodied their character’s true nature. Iago, played by Tayves Fiddis, was absolutely devilish. Hilary McCormack’s Desdemona was sweetness personified. Othello (Anthony Sherwood) was suitably commanding. These descriptions might seem basic, but it all works so well on stage. They certainly did Shakespeare justice.
Something that surprised me was that the show was genuinely funny. I had only read Othello before, and at the time, most of the opportunities for comedy went completely over my head. Alex Cote’s impression of drunk Cassio was hilarious, and Chris Whidden’s Rodrigo was delightfully pitiful. I think the comedy was almost too good, because I heard people tittering in moments that weren’t supposed to be funny.
One really effective thing that I have to give director Joshua Stodart and stage manager Lin-Mei Lay credit for was their use of not only the stage, but the whole theatre. The actors shouted at each other from across the room, and frequently ran off-stage. At one point, Anthony Sherwood hid behind my row and seethed about Cassio on stage. I was so shocked by his voice I nearly stood out of my seat. The actors surrounded us, and it made the play all the more enchanting. Whenever a character would storm out of an exit, I had to fight the temptation to follow.
My plus one was also quite pleased with the play. She’s come along to several shows, but this was her absolute favourite. We’ve seen a handful of comedies, but how was I supposed to know that a tragedy would steal her heart? I promised her that I would mention the beautiful harmonies that opened and closed the play. I also promised to mention that she hated Iago so much she wanted to hit him. I would say that’s a compliment to Tayves Fiddis.
The only problem I think some people might have with the play itself is in the way Shakespeare discusses race. I’m aware that the 17th century was a different time, but I know that some people may still be uncomfortable with the racist content. This particular production, however, is very entertaining. If you can look past disturbing elements from another time, I would really recommend going to see it before it’s too late.
- The Tragedie of Othello: The Moore of Venice is playing at The Ale House Indoor (611 Manning Avenue)
- Performances will be running until Saturday May 2nd. Thursday to Saturday shows will be at 8pm, along with a 2pm matinee on May 2nd.
- Tickets range from $20-$35. Student tickets can be purchased for $15 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online.
Photography credit: Joseph Hammond. Pictured: Anthony Sherwood