Review: Othello (Invictus Theatre Company)

| November 24, 2017

Felipe Carrasco and Jake Samson star in Othello, Invictus Theatre Chicago            



Written by William Shakespeare 
at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map)
thru Dec 3  |  tix: $20  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Solid ensemble work lifts shaky but ambitious
Invictus inaugural production


Reginald Vaughn and Karissa Murrell Myers star in Othello, Invictus Theatre

Invictus Theatre Company presents
Othello: The Moor of Venice

Review by Lauren Whalen

Othello is a difficult play, and hands-down my favorite Shakespearean tragedy. Its title character is fascinating – a soldier of color who struggles to seek acceptance, despite countless achievements, but whose tragic flaw, jealousy, will lead to murder. Equally fascinating is Iago, Othello’s underling who uses the power of manipulation to undo Othello’s life bit by bit. In the inaugural production of Invictus Theatre Company, Iago is played as a woman. Unfortunately, her strong performance and a largely solid ensemble are not enough to save a weak lead and some very obvious production value missteps.

Martin Diaz-Valdes, Felipe Carrasco, Joseph Beal, Alex Dauphin, Jake Samson and Diane Sintich star in OthelloInitially, all is well with Othello (Reginald Vaughn) – mostly. Sure, his new father-in-law Brabantio (Joseph Beal) doesn’t exactly love him, but Othello now has the love of his life Desdemona (Callie Johnson) with him all the time. In addition, he’s a star in the military and has promoted his loyal friend Michael Cassio (Felipe Carrasco). However, Othello’s ensign Iago (Karissa Murrell Myers), furious at being passed over for the promotion, sets out to ruin Othello. Iago uses her gift of suggestion to the fullest extent, encouraging Othello’s paranoia bit by bit, with devastating results.

As previously stated, Othello is Invictus’ very first production, and it’s an ambitious one. Characters, situations and wordplay are all complex and require careful direction and thoughtful acting. Shakespeare can be set in virtually any time and place, and the contemporary military choice is a good one. Set designer Kevin Rolfs and costume designer Amy Allyssa Johnson both have sharp eyes for detail, and work well together to create a neutral color palette befitting a military base. The sound and lighting cues for Iago’s evil asides in the first half of the play, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more obvious and less necessary. Iago is a villain, and it’s clear from the beginning, even to someone unfamiliar with Othello. Playing horror-movie music and lowering the lights doesn’t add anything.

Felipe Carrasco, Diane Sintich, Jake Samson and Martin Diaz-Valdes star in OthelloKarissa Murrell Myers and Reginald Vaughn star in Othello, Invictus Theatre

Also disappointing is Vaughn’s Othello. The actor has a less-than-stellar grasp on diction, and seems to rush through his dialogue (most of which is very interesting and nuanced). In the ideal Othello, Iago doesn’t overshadow the title character, as the latter deals with a significant amount of demons, all of which make him more susceptible to Iago’s mind tricks. At times, I could see Vaughn struggling to remember his lines. Also, director Charles Askenaizer’s choice to make Emilia a cougar is odd and out of place, and Lynne Baker is very awkward in the role.

Thankfully, Myers is an excellent Iago, both stoic and calculated, with a firm grasp on Shakespearean language and a knack for bringing out Iago’s dark humor. Everything is spot-on, from Iago’s aversion to affection (that she later uses as a weapon with her wife, Emilia) to her suppressed glee at moving vulnerable humans around like chess pieces. Carrasco is an able Cassio (though I wish he would have yelled a little less), and Alex Dauphin’s Bianca is both seductive and clever. Othello’s best performance by far is Johnson as Desdemona. She’s able to cry pretty tears and stubbornly stand by her man, showcasing heartbreaking sensitivity and copious intellectual strength all at once. Overall, this Othello is hit-or-miss, a very ambitious production that sometimes meets its lofty goals and other times, does not.

Rating: ★★½

Othello continues through December 3rd at Heartland Studio, 7016 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Mondays 7:30pm, Wednesdays-Saturdays 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm.  Tickets are $20 (students: $10), and are available online through (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 40 minutes, includes an intermission)

Martin Diaz-Valdes, Karissa Murrell Myers, Jake Samson and Diane Sintich star in Othello

Photos by Brian McConkey Photography




Reginald Vaughn (Othello), Karissa Murrell Myers (Iago), Callie Johnson (Desdemona), Felipe Carrasco (Cassio), Lynne Baker (Emilia), Robert Vignisson (Roderigo), Joseph Beal (Brabantio, Cyprus Gallant), Alex Dauphin (Bianca, 3rd Gentleman, Cyprus Gallant), Martin Diaz-Valdes (Montano, Military Police), Diane Sintich (Duke, Gratiano, Cyprus Gallant), Jake Samson (Lodovico, 1st Senator, Herald, Cyprus Gallant), Kate Souza, Nick Savin, Julia Badger (understudies)

behind the scenes

Charles Askenaizer (director), Kevin Rolfs (scenic design), Robert Vignisson (properties design), Lana Whittington (fight choreography), Becs Bartle (lighting design), Donna Walker and Kelly Askam (sound and music design), Michael Sheridan (stage manager), Amy Allyssa Johnson (costume design), Brian McConkey Photography (photos)

Felipe Carrasco and Jake Samson star in Othello, Invictus Theatre Chicago


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Category: 2017 Reviews, Heartland Studio Theatre, Invictus Theatre, Lauren Whalen, William Shakespeare

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