Given the trappings of modern warfare, this production of Shakespeare's tragedy is military serviceable.
In British director Jonathan Munby’s new Othello, Venice is rendered as a modern military-industrial complex, with James Vincent Meredith’s Othello leading the troops into Cypress in desert fatigues. Michael Milligan’s Iago is introduced as a blue-collar bulldog in a bomber jacket and a baseball cap marked “ARMY,” which he uses to point and wave in punctuational fashion for emphasis.
Munby’s choice of setting (in concert with scenic designer Alexander Dodge and costumer Linda Cho) is striking on its surface, but not terribly illuminating. Iago’s wife, Emilia (Jessie Fisher), is herself a soldier here, which I suppose could suggest that her aiding and abetting of her husband’s toxic scheme could somehow be justified by chain of command. But otherwise, the military crispness of the concept seems to render this Othello overly stoic.
Deliberately or not, Meredith, who previously played the role in a Writers Theatre production in 2007, hasn’t accessed the same inner turmoil he found in Othello then. Neither does Milligan find much shading in his portrayal of villainous Iago; Bethany Jillard’s Desdemona is drawn as a frilly girl who should never have accompanied Othello to battle (complete with the visual gag of her showing up with a plethora of designer luggage), but you never quite feel the depth of devotion between the couple that Iago schemes to undermine. And Philip Rosenberg’s harsh, cold lighting design makes the whole thing a little chilly. For all the blood that’s shed by its end, this Othello is a little bloodless.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater. By William Shakespeare. Directed by Jonathan Munby. With James Vincent Meredith, Michael Milligan, Bethany Jillard, Luigi Sottile, Jessie Fisher. Running time: 3hrs; one intermission.