David Henderson Steals the Show as Iago in “Othello”

Gil Faison and Miranda Kahn play Othello and Desdemona (photo by Jonathan Young)
Gil Faison and Miranda Kahn play Othello and Desdemona (photo by Jonathan Young)

Gil Faison and Miranda Kahn play Othello and Desdemona (photo by Jonathan Young)
Gil Faison and Miranda Kahn play Othello and Desdemona (photo by Jonathan Young)

English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice, written about 1603, is a timeless tragedy about a passionate May-December interracial romance between a highly decorated Christian Venetian army commander of Moorish descent and the impressionable daughter of one of Venice’s leading citizens. In the 17th century, the noble Othello and the beautiful Desdemona’s whirlwind courtship and marriage would have been shocking and a subject for vicious gossip. Today, it would be fodder for an endless series of segments on tabloid TV.

Deep Dish Theater Company’s modern-dress production of Othello, under the direction of its artistic director Paul Frellick, is deeply flawed but has its pleasures. Unfortunately, Gil Faison’s twitchy performance in the title role of a noble warrior driven insane by his ambitious ensign Iago’s false accusations that Desdemona is being unfaithful to him is not one of them. Faison never seems comfortable in Othello’s skin. Moreover, his Othello seems suspicious of Desdemona and insecure about her faithfulness from the get-go. There is no gradual evolution from happy bridegroom to unhappy husband increasingly tormented by thoughts that his bride may be fooling around with members of the garrison that he commands in Cyprus.

Although Gil Faison lacks the gravitas (for wont of a better word) to make his Othello truly noble and the art to make his portrayal of the Moor completely convincing, Raleigh actor David Henderson is wonderfully wicked — a real scene-stealer — as the spiteful Iago, whom Othello passed over for promotion and who is determined to get wreak a terrible revenge on Othello for that oversight.

Ryan Brock is good but David McClutchey is better as Othello’s newly promoted lieutenant Cassio and Desdemona’s spurned Venetian suitor-turned-stalker Roderigo, respectively.

Miranda Kahn and Gil Faison lack the romantic chemistry to convince the audience that Desdemona and Othello are crazy in love about each other and willing to risk ostracism in a racist society by marrying. In fact, Kahn’s Desdemona is only intermittently persuasive. Some of the time, it seems like she is sleepwalking from scene to scene.

Mary Forester is better as Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s personal maid Emilia; and Tom Marriott adds a passionate cameo as Desdemona’s distraught father Brabantio. But Anusha Sethuraman merely goes through the motions as Cassio’s coquettish mistress Bianca.

It’s too bad that Deep Dish Theater Company’s current presentation of Othello is so uneven, but for David Henderson fans it is an opportunity to see one of the Triangle’s finest actors at the top of his game. And that may be worth the price of admission, all by itself.

SECOND OPINION: May 11th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 3 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/deep-dish-theaters-othello/Content?oid=2454639. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the May 6th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/05/deep-dishs-othello-stars-gil-faison-and-miranda-kahn-as-the-noble-moor-and-his-ill-fated-bride/.)

Deep Dish Theater Company presents OTHELLO at 8 p.m. May 14; 2 p.m. May 15; 7:30 p.m. May 18 and 19; 8 p.m. May 20 and 21; and 2 p.m. May 22 in its performance space between The Print Shop and the future home of the Public Library at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Dr. and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514. TICKETS: $17 Wednesday and Thursday ($15 seniors) and $19 Friday-Sunday ($17 seniors), except “Cheap Dish Night” on May 11th (with $9 tickets sold only at the door) and $12 for students for all performances. BOX OFFICE: 919/968-1515 or http://www.etix.com/. SHOW: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/productions?p=44. SEASON: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/productions. PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/.  DIRECTIONS/PARKING: http://www.deepdishtheater.org/location. NOTE 1: There will be post-performance discussions on May 15th (with the cast and director), May 19th (with the production’s designers), May 22nd (with Darren Hearn of the Durham VA Medical Center), and May 26th (with Ret. U.S. Air Force Major Gen. Charles Dunlap). NOTE 2: There will be a lively, informal discussion of the Deep Dish Book Selection, Homer’s Odyssey, led by Evelyn Daniel, at 7 p.m. on May 23rd at Flyleaf Books (http://www.flyleafbooks.com/), 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514. OTHER LINKS: The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Othello (Wikipedia). Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/othello/othello.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival). The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).