Tonight, after dining at Empanada Mama (see post below), I was treated to a wonderful FREE production of Shakespeare's Othello by the Epic Theater Ensemble. From their website: "Epic Theater Ensemble is a company of artists and activists dedicated to creating theatrical events Off-Broadway and in the NYC Public Schools that inspire vital dialogue about social, ethical and political issues." Among other supporters, Epic Theater is partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.
The non-profit theater company travels to schools and other venues around New York City and performs "socially minded plays" aimed at inspiring audiences, especially students, to learn to embrace empowerment, and also to become involved in the arts themselves. Students are often encouraged to create their own plays modeled on Epic Theater productions.
***SPOILER ALERT*** SOME OF THE CONTENTS OF OTHELLO ARE DISCUSSED BELOW
The production of Othello that I saw tonight made me laugh, gasp, jump, feel love, rage, hatred and sadness all together, and even nearly shed a tear or two. Before the play began, I had recalled that Othello was a tragedy, that it involved love and revenge, that Othello and Desdemona had found a love that was not accepted by all, and that Iago was somehow the villain. Beyond that, I left the memory of much of this beloved tale in my own high school classroom. However, the actors at Epic Theater more than brought this play to life for me again. The character of Iago, played by James Wallert, was exceptionally well-done. Sitting in the first row, I oft' felt like I myself was being threatened by the villainous knave. Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr., who played Othello, also impressed me with his transformation from doting husband and respected General to an impassioned, vengeful killer. Even as I write the word "killer," and even as I witnessed his murders unfold before me, on stage, I find it hard to accept, because of how easily and simply Mr. Simmons presented himself as an affectionate, lovesick man, who was tragically turned towards an unspeakable deed by the plotting of his trusted "Honest Iago." The play was also not without humor, and was given a modern update, as characters conversed on walkie-talkies and used cell-phones as flashlights. Prior to the first scene, we even got a glimpse of Iago's facebook page. I think it said he was off in Cyprus...
While the current run of Othello ended tonight, Epic Theater will be presenting the show again from March 30-April 3, in Harlem, and in May at a Brooklyn location. Click here for more info on these and other shows. (If I understand correctly, not all of Epic's productions are free, but those associated with their "Impact" tour, including Othello, are all offered free of charge, with donations accepted).