By Billy Giorgio, Guest Writer
The Rude Mechanicals ran their production of Shakespeare’s “Othello” at the University of Michigan’s Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. The Mechanicals performed a 7 p.m. show on Nov. 7 and Nov. 8, as well as a 2 p.m. matinee on Nov. 9.
The classic Shakespeare play tells the story of a Venetian general who succumbs to his own jealousy falsely brought upon him by the manipulative and jealous Iago. Iago plots Othello’s downfall by lying to and abusing the weaknesses of his associates to get revenge on Othello for promoting Cassio to the general instead of him. The play deals with the theme of jealousy, as well as some racial and gender-based themes that are reflective of Shakespeare’s time.
The titular character was played by senior Matthew Daniels during his final performance in a University of Michigan production. His Saturday performance was seen by his family, former elementary school teachers, and an old childhood friend. Daniels currently plans on taking a break from acting.
The most notable performance came from freshman Peter Donahue, the actor portraying Iago. Few would have expected to see the most prominent character in the play be portrayed by such a young student. He got involved with the Mechanicals, because he had heard good things about the director, Clare Brennan. He saw the opportunity of working with a lot of senior students to be a good one.
Donahue described the experience as “a whole lot of fun”. His next acting gig will be performing in a university production of “Achilles.”
Brennan wanted to make a production of “Othello” because of how it contrasts with the social behaviors of the modern world. She described today’s society as being “compartmentalized” and that because of the prevalence of political correctness, everyone has to be careful about what they say, or else be branded as racist and the like.
“”Othello” challenges this concept by blending the innocent and the guilty,” Brennan writes in the theater program, “It asks how we’re prone to jealousy, subject to manipulation, and rash in fear and anger, while all the while the truth lingers, waiting to be used by someone brave enough to recognize it.” Brennan also notes the play’s use of strong words, such as “moor” and “whore,” that, if substituted for words that fit today’s sensibilities, would not be as strong.
The costumes and set design do not reflect the play’s 17th century setting. Rather, the play has a minimalistic set, and the characters wear contemporary clothing. Brennan says that these decisions were made to keep the play “as timeless as possible,” since she believes the message of the play can be applied to every decade.
The Rude Mechanicals is a student-run theater troupe at the UM. It was founded in the fall of 1996 by sophomore engineering students, Michael Newberry and Christopher Nitchie. The Rude Mechanicals perform two plays a year, one of which is always a Shakespeare piece. The troupe’s Shakespeare productions include: “Measure for Measure”, “The Tempest”, and “Richard II.” Their modern works include: “The Violet Hour”, “Arcadia”, and “Self Defense, or death of some salesman.”
Disclaimer: The writer of the article is the aforementioned childhood friend. All opinions of Daniels’ performance have been withheld from the article to prevent a conflict of interest.
(Sources: interviews with Brennan and Donahue, Rude Mechanicals’ Facebook and BlogSpot pages, facebook.com)