Kalamazoo College’s Festival Playhouse will examine an old tragedy through a modern lens when it stages William Shakespeare’s Othello from Thursday, November 3–Sunday, November 6 at the Nelda K. Balch Playhouse, 129 Thompson St.
In the play, the character Iago has served as a soldier and trusted ensign, fighting alongside Othello, the Moor of Venice, for many years. However, he grows angry about being passed over for a promotion and plots to take revenge against his general, Othello. Iago tricks Othello into believing that his wife, Desdemona, is unfaithful. That stirs Othello’s jealousy, leading him to kill Desdemona and then himself.
The production demonstrates the importance of communication, trust and respect, and how they relate to mental well-being while lifting the curtain on the Playhouse’s 59th season under the theme of Mental Health Matters.
“Throughout the show, we explore how Iago’s influence and being surrounded by racism affects Othello’s mental health,” said Meaghan Kelly ’23, who is working as the play’s dramaturg. As the dramaturg, Kelly researched the historical topics and time periods addressed in the play to assist Director Ren Pruis, a K professor of theatre arts, in teaching the actors about the characters and the play’s settings.
“Racism at the time this show was written is incredibly significant. Shakespeare bases his characterization of Othello on a book written by a European author who had just done a tour of Africa,” Kelly said. “This author implies that all African people are brave and noble, but very jealous, which almost exactly describes Othello. We’re always looking to take on challenging theatre like this and we think there’s a lot to learn from it.”
Kelly also designed an informational display for the Playhouse’s lobby, something that she hopes will make Shakespeare’s ideas understandable.
“I find that a lot of the struggle with Shakespeare comes with reading his plays when it’s naturally meant to be seen and heard,” Kelly said. “My lobby display will feature the actors and their roles along with a list of vocabulary that’s used in the play. That’s one of the benefits to having a dramaturg in college theater. It will help make the language more accessible.”
Guest Artist Xavier Bolden, a Western Michigan University alumnus, will play Othello. Bolden has been involved with community theatre since he was about 10 years old, performing at the Kalamazoo Civic Theatre, in addition to Kalamazoo Public Schools. He also was an extra on episodes of the TV shows Bones and No Ordinary Family.
“As far as acting is concerned, I’ve loved dramatic or theatrical plays that lend a deeper message,” Bolden said. “With how (the Playhouse) is dealing with mental health issues and the overwhelming emotional side of the tragedy in Othello and the loss with it, I hope to rise to the occasion with the role. From watching the rehearsals when I’m not on stage and seeing what we’ve accomplished with lighting and sound, all credit goes to the other actors and everyone who has brought in their talents. Everybody has grown in a tremendous way. The students have had midterms in the middle of rehearsing a 146-page play. That’s nothing short of incredible. It’s going to be an amazing production.”
Sean Gates ’23 and Sedona Coleman ‘23 will perform as Iago and Desdemona respectively. Other actors include Evan Barker ’26 as Cassio, Raven Montagna ’25 as Roderigo and Max Wright ’26 as Lodovico.
The play will be staged at 7:30 p.m. from November 3–November 5, and at 2 p.m. November 6. Tickets are available online or by calling the Festival Playhouse at 269.337.7333. Friday’s show will also be livestreamed. Purchase a livestream pass online. Please note that masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccinations are required to attend.