The Deadly Power of Doubt

Director Chris Abraham is intrigued by Othello’s complex examination of human nature

By Shira Ginsler

Some years ago, Chris Abraham directed four Shakespeare plays for the Resurgence Theatre Company in Newmarket, Ontario. He had hoped that his next project with the company was going to be Othello, and he had already begun organizing his thoughts about it when circumstances intervened and he moved on to other work.

The director of Stratford’s hilarious and touching production of The Matchmaker in 2012, as well as audience favourites The Little Years in 2011 and For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again in 2010, felt the force of Othello anew when he returned to it to begin preparations for his 2013 production at the Avon Theatre.

“I was struck by the intensity of feeling that I had in re-reading it,” he says: “the sense of shock, terror and grief that I felt as the vice of the play tightens around Othello and Desdemona.”

The play is as puzzling as it is gut-wrenching, and that’s part of its attraction for Mr. Abraham. “I’m very intrigued by the proposition of Iago as a character and the famous question of what motivates him to destroy Othello by making him believe his wife and his lieutenant are having an affair,” he says.

“I’m interested in the accidents and coincidences of the play: how fate seems to be on Iago’s side for a time. What is Shakespeare getting at when he presents a vision of the universe that seems aligned with a malignant force?”

When Mr. Abraham sits down at the table on the first day of rehearsals, he won’t have the answers to these questions down pat. Instead, he’ll have a
well-researched thesis to be investigated further with the actors – who include Dion Johnstone as Othello, Graham Abbey as Iago and Bethany Jillard as Desdemona.

With the better part of a year to go before that first rehearsal, he shares a thread he’s currently following: “Iago’s point of view on the human beings that surround him, and on human nature in general, exudes a kind of power. That power comes from his capacity to create doubt in the characters around him, and in the audience. He makes us doubt our faith in goodness in people and in the world. I find that really interesting.”

Othello is sponsored by BMO Financial Group.

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