William Shakespeare addressed combustible issues such as race, class, and religion with as much insight 400 years ago as contemporary leaders, on many sides, manage to do today. So, the timing couldn’t be better for a canny production of the Bard’s sharply observed, race-conscious tragedy, Othello.
The production returns to the Shakespeare Theatre Company as this year’s annual Free for All. Faran Tahir, who starred in the original 2016 production, views the revival as a chance to re-discover — not merely recreate — the part.
“You literally have to look at the play, and the production afresh, and start to find newer, finer things,” says the actor known for his work on TV’s American Crime and SyFy’s adaptation of 12 Monkeys. “That’s the beauty of Shakespeare — you can keep diving into it. It’s a bottomless ocean.”
Tahir’s love for Shakespeare runs deep, and he was excited to resume his collaboration with director Ron Daniels, who first directed him in another Shakespearean production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Several actors from Daniels’s original also return alongside Tahir, including Patrick Vaill as Cassio, and Ted van Griethuysen as the Duke of Venice. But two new to the cast will contribute prominently to the revival’s fresh approach. Jay Whittaker as the villainous Iago, and Madeline Rogers, as Othello’s ill-fated love, Desdemona, are both “brilliant,” says Tahir, adding, “this production has an intimacy to it, even more so than the last one.”
That intimacy brings even greater urgency to Shakespeare’s treatment of still incendiary topics like interracial marriage, religion, and ethnic identity. “We’re also dealing with the idea of Othello perhaps being a Muslim, because that is something that we in our society are also dealing with,” he says. “Marginalizing people based on what we think, or how we think a particular group should behave, and what rights we are willing to give them, it’s something very timely.”
It’s so timely, in fact, that Tahir can easily relate Shakespeare’s prescient centuries-old tragedy to the controversies of modern-day bans on Muslim immigration and trans individuals serving in the military.
“In Othello, there’s the idea of this other who can go and fight your wars, but God forbid if he falls in love with a woman of your culture,” he says. “Whether it’s [with] Muslims, or the LGBTQ community, or women’s rights, or whatever — Ithese are topics of today. It’s amazing that Shakespeare brought them up 400 years ago.”
Othello runs to August 27 at Shakespeare Theatre Company, Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. There is no charge for tickets, which are distributed via an online lottery, and in the STC ticket line at Harman Hall, starting two hours before each day’s curtain. To enter the online lottery, visit ShakespeareTheatre.org.
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