AISLE SAY Twin Cities


by William Shakespeare
Directed by Michelle Hensley and Sonja Parks
Ten Thousand Things Theater
Open Book/MN Opera Center
3153 36th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN/ 612-203-9502

Reviewed by Vlad Dima

In the last seven years I have seen most Ten Thousand Things productions, and I have never been disappointed. The company has an affinity for staging Shakespeare plays, which are terrific; the overall creative and artistic effort always seems to increase in those instances. "Othello" is no exception. In fact, it may be the strongest and most intense performance put on by this remarkable theater company.

The Ten Thousand Things theater group performs in unconventional locations, such as prisons, or home shelters, but also in standard settings. The lights are left on, and there is no traditional stage; instead, the play takes place in the rectangle formed by the chairs of the audience. The actors change costumes for their multiple roles on the sides of the room, in plain view. They also frequently interact with the spectators, asking rhetorical questions or pointing out certain props. Sometimes they even sit with the audience. This Brechtian approach to staging generates unmatched levels of energy in the playhouse. We, the audience, are physically drawn into the action, and we become actors ourselves, and an actual part of the play. In the case of "Othello," the intimacy created between spectators and actors further fuels the intensity of a tragedy that relies so heavily on human emotion.

"Othello" is co-directed by Michelle Hensley, who is usually at the helm of the Ten Thousand Things productions, and talented actress Sonja Parks. Their direction is precise, but the strength of the play comes from the fantastic acting of the seven men and women involved in the project. The passion and verve exhibited by the actors are smoothly highlighted by the live score provided by Peter Vitale, who is truly a one-man orchestra. He makes great use of the percussion instruments (the djembe drum in particular), but is equally skilled with the accordion and various foley devices.

However, in the middle of it all, it is Luverne Seifert's sublime Iago that deserves most praise. He manipulates not only the actions of the other characters but also the emotions of the audience. He is funny and subtle; he is forceful and defiant, sinister and appropriately clad in green as he exudes the jealousy that has made his character notorious. By alternating between these moods, Luverne Seifert manages to capture the very essence of one of the most complex Shakespearean villains.

At the other end of the emotional spectrum, Othello (Ansa Akyea) is equally great, but in a more powerful and obvious way. He commands the stage, and displays relentless passion throughout. His voice thunders, and when he is standing a couple of feet from you, that sonic force amplifies and seems to make the room vibrate. Desdemona, his love interest, is played by Tracey Maloney, who provides the perfect counterpoint to Othello's brute strength. She is delicate and fair, but matches him step for step in the climactic murder scene. If Ansa Akyea's energy is more palpable, Tracey Maloney's is more subdued, and comes from within. During the final scene, these two opposing forces collide and the spectators, much like Desdemona, are left breathless.

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