By Marianne Daly
Published July 21, 2016
The Tragedy of Othella Moore's 90 second preview at the Fringe Kick Off was brilliant! There were two Shakespearian actors in costume on one side of the stage, two present day cheerleaders on the other side. Esther Huh, the play's author, was in the middle.
She went back and forth between the two pairs of actors, showing how her gender-flipped mean girls revision of Othello connects with the original. Quick switch, and the Shakespearian actors speak a few lines of "Meangirl."
That brilliant and funny minute and a half is but a glimpse into how talented and clever and funny Esther Huh can be. Huh is also a multimedia wizard! The way she weaves live tweeting, a hilarious GIF, selfies and more social media into this production is amazing.
From the moment the audience sits down, there is a lot to watch on the big screen. When the play starts, the screen goes up part way. Other students in the high school where the play is set become virtual extras conveying the instantaneous way that news and gossip can spread.
This play is the best example of how to utilize every inch of the stage, even the space above the stage for the screen and every entrance and exit, to maximize the effect. Kudos to director Jenifer Walton for the way she has staged this play.
The small stage of the Staircase Theatre switches from a high school hallway, complete with a small row of real lockers, to the cafeteria, then to three different homes with just a few key set pieces.
The lighting has a focus on one side of the stage while there is quiet, but important action taking place on the other side of the stage.
All the transitions between scenes are incredibly smooth and efficient. It is a testament to the energy and commitment of this cast that all the changes of set and props are done by the actors themselves without the assistance of a stage manager.
During most of the scene changes, the audience's attention is focused on texts or tweets on the screen above, which helps keep the magic intact. People who love theatre enough to notice this exclaim, "The show is so tight!"
Shakespeare aficionados have congratulated Esther Huh on how well she has captured the main themes and plot points of Othello. As a high school teacher for 30 years, I was more focused on the personalities and the relationships in this play. Some degree of stereotyping and exaggerating personality traits is necessary for the audience to relate these characters to people they're familiar with.
Cassie is a cheap drunk cheerleader who is rumored to have slept with all the guys on the football team. Riley is hopelessly devoted to the hottest athlete in the school and believes her crush on him is true love and destiny.
Des is that hot athlete who was nice to her because he is such a great guy. His best friend is played by the talented and hilarious David Brennan. He also plays the socially inept and nerdy Billy the towel boy. It was an excellent call to have David Brennan playing both roles, because the audience loves the laughs he generates!
Through the quickly unfolding course of events, and the tightly packed dialogue, many of the relationships the characters have with each other are revealed. Of all the relationships, the most intriguing is between Amy, based on Iago, and Othella, the female version of Othello.
Amy knows how to seem nice, but she is a manipulative and deep down mean girl. Othella is lovely, talented, vulnerable and feisty. Excellent performances by Laura Ellis and Allison Edwards-Crewe!
There are a lot of laughs and memorable moments in this play, but if you are looking for a feel good happily ever after, a Shakespearian Tragedy is not the place to look. The writer and director have cut the death down by 80%, but the ending is still incredibly impactful.
Full disclosure: I enjoyed this play so much since it was workshopped in April that I have now seen it four times.
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