Avery Brooks and Patrick Page Reexamine Othello and Iago
For both Avery Brooks and Patrick Page, this production of Othellois a journey through a familiar landscape. Both actors have played their respective roles before, but though the journey is familiar,it is anything but old.
As Brooks explained to a packed house at Meet the Cast for Othello, the actors come to this production richer with the lives they have lived. Since playing Othello in the Shakespeare Theatre Company's 1990–91 production directed by Harold Scott, Brooks said, “I have experienced more. I have lived more. I have loved more. I pray I understand more deeply.”
This production provides a chance for Brooks and Page to delve into these roles afresh, to reexamine one of Shakespeare's most complex and demanding plays, to discover ideas they hadn't thought of before.
Page played Iago in 1988 at the Utah Shakespearean Festival in a production directed by Libby Appel. Though he was close to the actual age of Iago at the time, he now feels he was unprepared as an artist for the role. The character's ambiguous motivations, his dual persona, plus the sheer amount of time he is on stage: all these make Iago one of the most difficult characters in the Shakespeare canon. Page knew he wanted to return to the role and was especially compelled when director Michael Kahn offered him the chance.
“I came back for the opportunity to work with Michael,” Page explains. “He thinks about [Shakespeare] the way I like —that these are real people who have deep and compelling reasons for why they say what they say … for the images, the metaphors, the similes they use. [The characters] feel this is the only way they can express what they feel.”
He also felt the play had a certain resonance to our time, given its exploration of evil and its effect on the world. He had seen a production of Othello shortly after September 11, 2001, where the actor playing Iago portrayed him as clearly deranged.
“I felt that the production let the audience off the hook, that it missed the point,” Page said. “This is a play about our inability to ever know another human being. Othello does not know Iago. Emilia does not know Iago. No one knows he is irredeemably evil.”
And that is what makes Iago, and evil, so frightening: their ability to put on a mask and go about the world unseen.
This idea seems to have a definite significance now, for one of the great joys of performing Shakespeare is its timelessness—theway the material always seems relevant and fresh to world events of the day.
As Brooks explained, “Great writing knows no time, no epoch, no era. The character doesn't exist out of context. In great writing there is the resonance of human behavior, in and out of time.”
The ability of the classics to reach out to our time was made especially clear to Brooks during his last experience with the Shakespeare Theatre Company. In 2001, Brooks played the title role in The Oedipus Plays, a production that traveled to the 2003 Athens Festival in Greece. Performing this Greek national treasure at the site of its provenance proved a transformative experience for many of the artists involved.
“It is humbling to stand in the shadow, literally, of ancestral history,” Brooks said.
Since appearing in The Oedipus Plays, Brooks has played another icon of the Shakespeare canon—King Lear, in a production by the Yale Repertory Theatre. It's a role that Brooks would like to return to, because, he said, “If I live to tell the story of ‘four score and more, not an hour more or less' … then maybe I have learned something about living.”
Page, too, has many classical roles that he would like to play or replay (which he discussed in Asides last year when he made his Shakespeare Theatre Company debut as Macbeth), including Coriolanus, Oedipus, Benedick, Leontes—and Lear, too, eventually. He recently appeared in the Broadway production of Julius Caesarwith Denzel Washington. After Othello, he'll return to play Scar in Broadway's The Lion King, a production with which he has a long, fruitful history.
For now, Brooks and Page will spend their days and nights exploring the world of Othello, creating new paths and byways through Shakespeare's landscape.