The Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s Othello

Samantha Clarke
Philadelphia Theater Examiner

The audience walks into the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre and into a world swirling with rain gusts and tempests: an ominous feeling of foreboding of things to come. The walls are a corroded and molted watercolor, giving the illusion of once being subject to too much water, both a cleansing and destructive force.

Despite the chaos, there is a stillness amidst the turmoil. An expectation. A respite in the war. For now…

As the play begins, the stage is awhirl with movement as Iago (J Hernandez) and Roderigo (Isaiah Ellis) plot against Othello (Tony-nominated, and rightfully so, Forrest McClendon) and Desdemona’s (Lauren Sowa) marriage. Men and cloaks swirl in a hurricane of bodies, a cacophony of confusion which is abruptly silenced by the lone-still figure of Othello (McClendon); the calm, confident, collected force of nature that stands at the eye of the storm. In his presence, all argument seems fruitless, all action appears extraneous, and denying him your full attention would ne’er cross your mind. His placid composure lulls the audience into a trusting state: we, like his soldiers and his “fair warrior” of a wife, will follow him into any battle.

Iago (Hernandez) weaves his way on and off stage (and in and out of our subconscious) like a carefully choreographed dancer. Unlike the villains of our Looney Toon years, easily recognized by their bandit-masks and black capes, Hernandez as Iago is a thinking and precise villain. He is an artist and his craft is manipulation.

Through his carefully laid plans, he twists and turns the key in Othello’s back, winding him up with the most devastating power of nature yet: Thought. As he releases his toy, Othello is thrown into the same swirling spiral from which he was once safe. A spiral that will end in his demise and the total destruction of the life he earned.

Caught in the whirlpool is the endearing Desdemona (played with utmost intelligence by Sowa), the charismatic Cassio (Chance Dean), the delightfully childish Roderigo (Ellis), and the loyal-to-a-fatal-fault Emilia (Eleni Delopoulos).

Beautifully directed by Artistic and Executive Director Carmen Khan, OTHELLO is a power-house play that fills the audience with questions about love, friendship, and how they can betray you.

OTHELLO will run from March 8 – May 18, 2013, in tandem with Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre’s production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING. Performances will be Wednesdays through Saturdays (7pm) and Sundays (2pm). Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling 215-496-8001. Tickets may also be purchased at the door.

Adieu, brave Moor… I will see you at the theatre!