By Beki Pineda; Image: Colorado Shakespeare Festival, 2015 Othello Rehearsal

OTHELLO. Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Lisa Wolpe. Produced by the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre on the University of Colorado campus) through Aug. 8. Tickets available at 303-492-8008 or www.coloradoshakes.org.

Shakespeare’s tale of jealousy and deception is given a fine telling in this sumptuous CSF production. Prior productions had left me with more questions than answers, but this production, through clever casting and illuminating acting, brought so many hidden motives to light that my previous questions were answered.

Iago is usually played with a slightly smarmy (a genuine Shakespearean term!) air by an actor whose looks signal his intent from the beginning. Casting a young, good-looking Iago (Geoffrey Kent), whose manner conveys loyalty to his lord, affection for his wife, and a courtliness that allows him to fit into the entourage of the court with ease, makes the true black-heartedness of his actions even more depraved. He fits in; he would have risen quickly because of his “friendship” with Othello; he is accepted by everyone as loyal and caring. Only to his dupe Roderigo (another fine performance by Rodney Lizcano) does he display his true ambitious feelings, his suspicion that Othello has slept with his wife Emilia, his lack of respect for the leadership abilities of Othello, and his anger at being passed over for a command position. Geoffrey Kent’s ability to switch from sweet to evil in the turn of a phrase allows the audience to see the two-faced nature of his performance. Even as he lays out his devious and deadly plot to the audience, he smiles as though explaining the rules of an innocent game. At the end, as he lies wounded, he looks pleased and smug at the destruction he has wrought all over the stage.

The great love story of Othello and Desdemona is given passion by the performances of Peter Macon and Laura Baranik. Baranik brings a youthful energy to Desdemona that is authentic and exuberant. When Othello returns from battle, she runs across the stage and jumps into his arms.  Nothing courtly or stately about this girl; her man is home and she is GLAD to see  him. He returns her passion and is proud to show his love in physical terms. They are just two people in love and trusting that everyone wishes them well. She stands up to her father and chooses her husband over him. That should have been the end of it. Her nervousness when things start to go awry during the preparing-for-bed scene with Emilia gives authenticity to her youthfulness and lack of experience. Her voice with its contemporary tones, however, while underscoring her youthfulness, did not match the more stately Shakespearean speech of the rest of the cast.

Peter Macon is a monument of a man. There is no doubt that his men would have followed him into battle with confidence; that his passions match his size; that he is a man who demands respect and follows in the footsteps of kings. But as his jealousy chips away at his faith in himself, he seems to get smaller and smaller, until the man who confronts his so-called “unfaithful” wife is a shadow of his former self. Defeated by his own insecurities, he is brought down by a man who has not laid a hand on him. Macon’s almost (at times) Haitian accent and exaggerated rolled R’s made some of his speeches difficult to understand, but did not detract from the physicality and passion of his performance.

This is definitely the summer “of an ass” for Rodney Lizcano. His fine performance as Dogberry in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING is followed up by another funny performance as Roderigo, who supports and plots with Iago for his own purposes—to have Desdemona for his own. As played by Lizcano, he is a comic buffoon made even more ridiculous by his passion and his deceit. Emilia, too, gains prominence by Vanessa Morosco’s performance. As Iago’s wife, she is central to the machinations of the story, yet innocent of all wrongdoing. When she finally figures out what has been going on, why her husband has been behaving so strangely, her grief and anger are a force of nature.

A clever reworking of the stage space from the MUCH ADO set to the OTHELLO set worked very well. The performance was well lit and enhanced by the lighting design of Shannon McKinney. The costumes created for this production by Hugh Hanson enhanced the richness of the court surroundings, delineated Othello’s differentness, and emphasized Desdemona’s innocence.

But the night belongs to Iago. This is a performance you will not soon forget.

WOW factor: 9