Phillip Lewis is a freelancing director and playwright native to Chicago. He has worked with companies such as Silent Theatre Company, Pegasus Players, Oracle Theater, and Prop Thtr along with a number of Deaf theater companies. He primarily focuses on the aesthetics of storytelling involving the representation of intersectionality and accessibility for all. He hopes to soon be a part-time American Sign Language Interpreter and a full-time impactful director.
Karissa Murrell Myers, Reginald Vaughn. – Brian McConkey Photography
By Phillip Lewis
The new Invictus Theatre Company opens their gates with OTHELLO: THE MOOR OF VENICE framed around an inspiring mission to intersect conversations of gender and race. The classic tale is Shakespeare’s most racially controversial story, so it would stand to reason that Charles Askenaizer would choose this play to juxtapose classical theatre with the intersection of race and gender. This, however, became the limit of the conversation, leaving me missing the driving question. Are we exploring the faults of an ambitious black man when stirred by an equally ambitious woman? Is this a story of a woman’s jealousy of men in general? In mentioning “the other” as this story’s narrative, I was uncomfortable with the pitting of multiple “others” against each other without a solid reason.
The design of the show places the players in a Venitian army base that remains neutral enough to not comment on a particular war but still makes use of modern technology such as an iPhone FaceTime call. This concept kept the story from playing out in a blank voided space but also left me uncertain to the overall world of this adaptation and the usefulness of this location. However, the freeform use of objects provides a simplistic and functional design that does not weigh down the progression of the story.
The language stays in traditional verse, with modifications of pop culture references and few gender modifications to stress the adapted female Iago, played by Karissa Murrell Myers. I was not certain if my attention was meant to prioritize Iago over Reginald Vaughn as Othello, but I felt much of this production stemmed from Myers’ performance. Frequently, scenes fast forward to the moments where Iago and Othello speak about gender. Though I would not mind watching more of this dynamic in a performance that was about black men and non-black women, I was uncertain how these characters fit into the world around them.
The most important part of this production is the conversation it raises. I found myself anxious to begin the exploration of the intersection between race and gender and the many intersections that often go cautiously overlooked. Invictus Theatre Company sets its stage to embrace diversity as the tool for communication and that in itself excites me and implores more. Though the topic was addressed, it felt hardly investigated which left me wanting more.