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The Gazette: Star Bar Players' 'Othello' aims to reveal the tragic contradictions of being human

June 05, 2012 9:39 AM

Already known for taking on challenging -- some might say backbreaking -- plays, the Star Bar Players tackles one of Shakespeare's most demanding works, "Othello, the Moor of Venice."

It runs June 1-17 in Theatre 'd Art's downtown space.

In this epic battle between suspicion and faith, the titular general is bent and manipulated by the high-ranking officer Iago into doubting his most trusted friends, including Cassio, an officer, and his wife Desdemonia.

Did I mention it's a tragedy?

Here director Alysabeth Clements Mosley talks about the magical way productions come together, the challenges of producing Shakespeare successfully and what "Othello" is really about.

The Gazette: Why “Othello?”
Alysabeth Clements Mosley: Well, for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve always wanted to direct Shakespeare. It’s one of my deepest theatrical loves. So, when I was deciding what to do, I went through the list of all the plays that had been produced in the Springs during the last 10 or 15 years. ... Othello hasn’t been done here since the ‘80s. I’d worked with George (Spencer) in “The Taming of the Shrew” a few years ago when he came from New York to do Petruchio. ... It seemed like kismet.

Gazette: Are you giving us a straight interpretation — or are you putting your own imprimatur on it? Say, setting it in present day or shifting the gender on a character.
Clements Mosley: Honestly, it’s pretty straight, though I’ve taken it out of period. It’s not in its own time — but it’s not in any other time, either.
The thing about Shakespeare is that the work is so incredibly dense and rich with the truth of human experience that you always... miss stuff. But no matter what angle you approach it from, it’s always enough. So you can look at Shakespeare with any concept in mind and the text is always going to be a rock-solid foundation upon which to build it.

Gazette: One of the challenges of producing Shakespeare’s works is that many actors struggle with making the language accessible to their audience. What’s your trick?
Clements Mosley: First, cast well. Choose intelligent actors with a facility for language. Cast people with Shakespearian experience when at all possible so that those without it can learn by listening. Read, read, read. Spend time with the text. Ask your actors what each line means. I learned to paraphrase from Murray: Go through the script and rewrite each of your lines in modern English, then rehearse it that way first.

Gazette: I know you’re a staunch feminist. Doesn’t “Othello,” which includes the brutal murder of Othello’s wife, give you pause on that score?
Clements Mosley: Actually, no. Just the opposite, in fact. Performing “Taming of the Shrew,” on the other hand, was a big deal in terms of passing a truthful performance through my offended feminist sensibilities. “Othello” is actually, as I read it, as much about sexism as racism. Yes, the female characters are terribly betrayed — but Shakespeare has taken care to show us how unjustly they’ve been treated. And, if you look carefully, you see that each bit of the plot is furthered by a woman stepping out of her accepted role and doing something unexpected or forbidden. Shakespeare has made them stalwart, intelligent and forthright while the men are riddled with doubts, plagued by their desires, filled with flaws. Desdemona and Emilia have this wonderful conversation about men, about what it is to relate to them. Emilia has this lovely speech which is the female equivalent of Shylock’s “if you prick us, do we not bleed?” Their characters, if you really look at the text, are very deeply and completely drawn.

Gazette: Tell me a little about what George Spencer brings to that role.
Clements Mosley: George has Shakespearian experience, which is always a plus. He’s a passionate, thoughtful actor and a very intelligent, well-rounded person. He’s physically beautiful, he’s graceful and strong and has a large, vibrant stage presence.

Gazette: What should the audience take away from this production?
Clements Mosley: You know, this is my first shot at directing Shakespeare. If they leave saying, ‘Well, she didn’t do too badly,’ I’ll be satisfied. If they’ve been moved by the actors’ performances, if they know the play a little better than they did when they came in, if they had an engaging evening and want to come back and see something else, I’ll count this as a success. If they leave with a deeper understanding of how beautiful and flawed humanity is, of how the interplay between light and darkness can be deceptive, of the incredible, transcendent, destructive power of passion and desire, well, then I can die happy.