Directed by Haley Puslipher, this weekend’s production of “Othello” marks the first undergraduate student-directed play at the U. The show had a successful run of five performances comprised of an all-student cast. It closed Monday, Jan. 16.
The performance space for this particular piece provided an interesting opportunity for the cast and creative team. Taking place in the Performing Arts Building’s intimate black box theatre in its upstairs section, this theater does not allow for much by way of a traditional “backstage” area where the audience is unable to see actors and set pieces. In this way, walking into “Othello” was not simply walking into a play—it felt like walking directly into the narrative.
Pulsipher took full advantage of this unusual space in her directing. It was not uncommon at points in the story for audience members to turn in their seat to locate who was speaking from which location. This offered a certain level of engagement with the audience, as they were thrust directly in between the conversations of characters.
McKenna Jensen provided an excellent insight into Othello’s journey from confidence to destruction, as the show’s gender-swapped star. As Iago’s plot–a vile character played by Nate Yerke–becomes more and more engrossing, Jensen’s actions became more frantic and distressed. Additionally, the affection between her Othello and Chloe Jensen’s Desdemona commented on sexuality as well as race, which “Othello” is known for. Both actors had a sense of flirtatiousness and affection in the relationship, which made the downfall an even more dramatic turn. Actors Emily Nash and Juliet Demares helped in keeping the narrative alive and functioning through their skillful shapeshifting, while Autumn Archuleta’s interpretation of Cassio played between an easygoing young man and a devastated soldier. The comfortable, conversational nature of the performances added to the atmosphere, as it made the general story feel more accessible and easy to follow.
Both the space and the material made for certain challenges with this production. Shakespeare, a playwright typically associated with high-brow academia and Elizabethan costuming, can easily become a challenge in a space with limited capabilities. The number of locations and changes requires a great deal of focus and dedication from the actors, particularly when there is no space or resources for a stage crew, but in such close quarters, this can also act as a distraction. Explosive moments of aggression or violence quickly express a character’s state of mind; however, they can lose power when overused, which occurred multiple times during the performance.
That said, the ambition and perseverance of all involved in this production is commendable. For a first foray into directing a full-length play, Haley Pulsipher accentuated some of the best skills of theater students—ingenuity, creative thinking, and tenacity. Overall, “Othello” proved to be an excellent showcase of the versatile and resourceful students here at the U.