Ideas of Life

October 11, 2019
That comes as no surprise in “Othello,” sharply directed here by Nigel Shawn on a modern set with overly literal projections.

Though race can’t help but be a theme in “Othello,” it is not the main one here; Iago’s hatred, and Othello’s susceptibility to it, seem to stem less from each man’s response to outsiderness than from their common fear of cuckoldry. (Iago imagines that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia, here a soldier in Desdemona’s retinue, not just her maid.) The women devise and
enact “scripts” of comeuppance for the men.

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By the time Emilia points out that the failings women regularly stand accused of are merely reflections of men’s worse ones — “The ills we do, their ills instruct us so” — it’s too late for Desdemona.

She has made her bed and will die in it. I left “Othello” thinking, oddly enough, about Vice President Mike Pence and other politicians who observe the “Billy Graham rule,” not allowing themselves, even at work, to be alone with women who aren’t their wives.

That idea came into relief, in both senses, in “Little Shop” and “Private Lives,” the sour Noël Coward comedy of divorce and infidelity. But it became most obvious when the tragedy of “Othello” flipped into the comedy of “Merry Wives.”

The absurd fear harbored by Mr. Ford that his wife is sleeping with Falstaff is matched only by Falstaff’s absurd fantasy that Mistress Ford and her bestie, Mistress Page, are gaga for him.


Though race can’t help but be a theme in “Othello,” it is not the main one here; Iago’s hatred, and Othello’s susceptibility to it, seem to stem less from each man’s response to outsiderness than from their common fear of cuckoldry. (Iago imagines that Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia, here a soldier in Desdemona’s retinue, not just her maid.) In a superb performance, Gordon S. Miller (a ringer for Tony Hale of “Veep”) gives us Iago as a hypercompetent desk jockey who turns, after hours, into a vicious, fake-news-spreading incel.
That idea came into relief, in both senses, in “Little Shop” and “Private Lives,” the sour Noël Coward comedy of divorce and infidelity. But it became most obvious when the tragedy of “Othello” flipped into the comedy of “Merry Wives.”

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