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Sacramento Shakespeare Festival performs “Othello”

Summer has arrived! It is during this time of year that Sacramento City College’s “City Theatre” puts on their Annual Sacramento Shakespeare Festival. Many years have passed where I have missed the opportunity to partake in the festivities, but not this year!

July 10th I dressed up in appropriate Sacramento Summer attire (think tank top for triple-digit heat and layers for when the sun goes down) and made my way out to William A. Carroll Amphitheatre at William Land Park. While the theatre was a tad bit tricky to find being tucked away on the opposite side of the Sacramento Zoo, I found the perfect parking spot and happily made my way to the box office.

At the box office I was greeted with a smile as I purchased my very first Sacramento Shakespeare Festival ticket ($15/students, $18/general public) for director Luther Hanson’s Othello!

I was surprised to find that the theatre had benches. While they were not very comfortable, I was glad to see that there was structured seating (Honestly, I had pictured people sitting on grass in an empty field).

Once I had taken my seat, I had a chance to observe the exposed stage setting. The stage was this eccentrically crooked wooden set-up, cleverly sloped downwards towards the audience, granting an interesting perspective for everyone out in the trenches…Benches. I mean benches!

The show began with a scruffy Iago (Rod Breton) and surprisingly logical Roderigo (Jason Oler) arguing in front of a 1920’s sepia-colored “city” theme backdrop. The costumes were also 1920’s themed. Am I the only one thinking this was odd? I forgave that choice (It needed forgiving, it was distracting and off-putting).

Having already read and analyzed Othello prior to seeing this production, I was not very convinced at the delivery of Iago’s lines. Rod Breton does a great job in delivery if considering artist-interpretation. He was entertaining to watch, and still, the essence of Iago was not captured. Instead, I was reminded of an annoying little-brother type grown to adult form, being more of a menace than a sadistic schemer who preys on people using their human qualities to create their own demise.

Who comes in to save the day – No other than Gregory Jolivette, cast as Othello, to carry the performance along by captivating his audience. If I could give one reason to see this production, it would whole-heartedly be lent to Jolivette based on his outrageously enthusiastic performance as Othello. Talk about execution! This man not only carried the weight of the play and the supporting characters, but he did it was such grace and precision! Jolivette’s delivery of speech was done beautifully – every word made audible with crisp diction – which is vital for audience enjoyment in Shakespeare productions! Bravo! Bravo!

Kirsten Myers, cast as Desdemona, shone greatly during her “Willow, Willow” scene where she beautifully sang the song of her mother’s servant. It was in this scene that her braided bun atop her head was finally let down. In this moment I saw the character of Desdemona truly come out. Perhaps it was the vision of long locks that gave me feelings of feminine vulnerability, a quality that Desdemona embodies. Kirsten Myers played a very charming Desdemona, but not as powerful of a character as I had imagined her to be.

While this show was definitely entertaining (Thanks again to Jolivette), it lacked the heavy theme of racism, due to casting decisions. Roderigo, for one, was cast to the talent of Jason Oler – an African American actor. In Shakespeare’s Othello, it is written that Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, would rather have his daughter marry Roderigo than Othello for the fact that Roderigo is not a “Moor”. In fact, the issue of racism seemed to dissipate amongst the cast’s ethnic diversity altogether.

The race theme issue aside (and a couple other awkward casting decisions not mentioned), this performance was unique in its interpretation and costuming, as well as delivery of Shakespeare’s complex work.

For my first experience, the Sacramento Shakespeare Festival was a positive one, with much credit given to Gregory Jolivette! I will be back next year to see what else “City Theatre” has to offer. Maybe next year the casting kinks will be worked out, who knows?







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