Shakespeare Tavern breathes life into tragedy

Photo Courtesy of Atlanta Shakespeare Company

The New American Shakespeare Tavern, located just outside of Tech’s campus in downtown Atlanta, is one of the few, if not only, organizations in the U.S. to have performed all of Shakespeare’s plays on the same stage. Because the Tavern has performed the classic works of Shakespeare since the 1980s, it has perfected the art of original practice as far as the master of the written word is concerned.

Each performance differs from the last, as the actors, in their Elizabethan garb, acknowledge the audience. Unlike performers in most respectable theatres around the world, the players at the Tavern break the fourth wall, the normally solid boundary between the audience and the stage, both often and with gusto.

For example, when some member of the audience gets up during the show, the actors might draw attention to them or direct their next line at the leaving person as though pleading with them not to go. It is this type of atmosphere that allows an audience to truly immerse themselves in a play, and such immersion has come to define the works that are produced and performed on the stage of the Shakespeare Tavern.

There are no distractions in original practice, for the show incorporates anything that, in a movie theatre, would be deemed an annoyance; if a cellphone should ring, fate, in the form of the actors and the personas they embody, shall rebuke its owner.

Audiences shall be entertained by this rendition and will not leave the theater with any notion of their time being wasted

During the current month of October, the Shakespeare Tavern is performing Othello, the Moor of Venice. This classic Shakespearean play takes place in 16th century Venice and Cyprus. As the curtain rises and the plot begins to unfold, the actors transport the audience to the land of theatrical drama in its highest form. One of the first to take center stage is Iago, a soldier who plots the downfall of his general, Othello. Throughout the play, Andrew Houchins, as Iago, gives a beautiful performance of the double role of faithful servant and conniving foe. When the other actors are preoccupied, he smiles deviously at the audience or soliloquizes about how he hates Othello and plots his demise.

The rest of the actors do a great, even praiseworthy, job of complementing Iago’s trustworthiness and successfully portray their characters’ obliviousness to the servant’s dual nature until the dramatic finale.

This being one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, one is left to wonder whose fate is worse, that of Othello, the misled and jealous lover, or that of the sinister Iago, who doles out actions of vengeance and spite far worse than those he receives. One might also argue that this play shows that love, greed and status all lead to the same place: the wretched depths of torment and loss. Regardless of the philosophy behind Othello, the Moor of Venice, audiences shall be entertained by this rendition and will not leave the theater with any notion of their time being wasted.

Though Othello is indisputably a tragedy, it does have comedic value. Throughout the play, Iago is shown to mislead the lustful and despicable Roderigo in his unfounded pursuit of the beautiful Desdemona’s love. Though Desdemona is Othello’s wife, this does not deter Roderigo in his suit. Matt Nitchie does a wonderful job of transforming Roderigo’s dry Shakespearean lines into entertaining speeches that maintain the attention of the audience while simultaneously honoring their masterful roots. Though such diction is good in its own right, the actor does not stop at the spoken word. Nitchie’s character comes alive all the more because of how he delivers these speeches and how he does a grand job of portraying emotion. In fact, the actors as a group bring the play to life, giving each character their own personality.

With the right actors, any story can be enjoyed

Shakespeare, admittedly, is not for everyone. Sadly, what few people realize is that this applies solely to reading the plays. With the right actors, any story, no matter how liberally the author makes use of words such as “anon,” “sirrah” or “doth,” can be enjoyed by even the most contrary and modern-minded readers. The difference between reading and watching Shakespeare is like using a pencil and paper to find the decimal answer to a square root problem and using the square root function on a calculator. While some people do find the former enjoyable, most would prefer to let others do the calculations or interpretations for them. For this reason, one should not just read Othello. Rather, one can go see it performed by the phenomenal actors at the Shakespeare Tavern, where the play is brought to life in a way that is both fitting and inspiring.