Q & A with Othello director, David Alford

David AlfordWhy did you want to direct Othello?

Well, it’s one of the masterpieces, I think, ranked right up there with Hamlet and Macbeth. And I think it’s probably the most intimate of his plays, from a psychological perspective. The major scenes are beautifully constructed, still very accessible to a modern audience. Really, any time you have an opportunity to work on a great piece of art like this, and you’re given some resources to make your vision happen, you say yes (thank you, Matt).

Why is Othello still relevant?

I think the relevance of the piece, 400 years later, is pretty staggering. Like all great art, it’s universal, it speaks to some eternal facet of the human condition. In this case, it’s about envy and jealousy, the human compulsion to want what we don’t have, and the sometimes fanatical need to keep something we call “ours”. This is dangerous enough when it comes to objects, but it can be fatal when we apply the same feelings to people. Every major character in this piece has or loses a position or a person they hold dear. And who among us has not felt the twinge of envy or desire about some person or thing at some point? It’s a fact of our existence, and this play examines that.

What is your hope for the audience of Othello?

I hope they will come away from the production with the same awe and appreciation I have for Shakespeare’s genius. Probably most importantly. I hope our audience sees what I think Shakespeare wanted his audience to get: jealousy and envy will ultimately destroy you, no matter who you are.

What drew you to this production concept?

I’m so grateful that audiences still want to come and see Shakespeare, and I know that for some the language takes a little while to get used to. So when I think of production concepts I’m usually trying to find a way to bridge that gap and sort of meet the audience halfway. Othello and his men are soldiers, and considering our country’s current military involvement in the Middle East, it seemed a contemporary military staging would help the audience understand who these guys are instantly. That, in addition to some of the atrocities we heard about coming out of Abu Ghraib (the military prison in Iraq), and the subject of “honor killings” where men in some cultures kill their wives or daughters for committing adultery, made me feel like this staging would have some contemporary resonance. Deployed military personnel do their jobs under an enormous amount of stress. That stress is multiplied exponentially in combat situations, and sometimes people snap. Hopefully this staging will make the character’s actions seem a little more understandable.

Why did you choose to play Iago?

It’s one of those great roles, first of all. and I’ve always wanted to play it for twenty years or so. I am extremely aware of how fortunate I am to get to do it. These big Shakespearean roles are gifts for an actor, and Iago is a spectacular part, full of nuance and with plenty of opportunity for the actor to bring their own personality to the role. Plus it’s almost always more fun to the bad guy, especially one that audiences can relate to. There’s a little bit of Iago in all of us.