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Shakespeare Bash’d Presents Othello | Shakespeare in Toronto

By January 27, 2019 No Comments

This is part of a series of ongoing regional Shakespeare coverage. It’s Tori here with the latest in Shakespeare news from Toronto.
Shakespeare Bash’d is continuing their 2019 season with Othello at the Monarch Tavern from February 5-10 at The Monarch Tavern. The show boasts an all-star cast with E.B. Smith playing the title role of Othello and is directed by James Wallis is co-artistic director of Shakespeare Bash’d and has spent the past three summers assistant directing some of Stratford’s biggest productions. I had the chance to chat with James Wallis, Jennifer Dzialoszynski who plays Emilia, and James Graham who plays Iago and they shared with me why you need to come and see this show!

JAMES WALLIS (director):
Why have you chosen to tackle Othello? What has been your approach to directing such a racially charged play?
JW: It’s so modern. It’s a play that fits (both effectively and severely) into our own modern world. The play looks at the act of “othering” by a society and how one relationship could strive to better the world but is destroyed by hatred, both personally and ideologically. Plus, to me, it’s the next in a line of definitive tragedies in Shakespeare’s canon that any company has to “tackle” (a good word for it) as they continue to grow.

My approach has been as gently as possible. I’ve really tried to bring patience into the room (which has been mostly successful I think). I said on our first read that our rehearsal room requires courage: to ask difficult questions of the play and of ourselves; to listen to each other; to know that we may not find the answers; and to allow for ourselves to be at the center of the argument of the play, as uncomfortable or terrifying as that might be.

How does the play fit in with the rest of your season?
JW: I think Othello is obviously very different than As You Like It (which we’ll be mounting in April), without a doubt, but they come from a period in Shakespeare’s dramaturgy where he was testing the vastness of his character development. Rosalind is a clear elaboration on many of his female characters to that point, while Othello is a great departure from the many “othered” characters in Shakespeare’s plays (Aaron in Titus, Shylock in Merchant, etc.). Both are plays about leaving your home, going somewhere new, for good or bad reasons. Though the differences in genre, expression, tone, and focus are great, there are some similarities that intrigued us while choosing pieces.

The Duchess of Malfi, our staged reading this year, is a play that sees the world similar to Othello: harsh, ordered, devoted but hypocritical; and one with a tremendous patriarchy in power. Both stories seek to show a romantic relationship trying to overcome the overwhelming control and misogyny of the society they come from.

You have assembled an all-star cast for this production, what have rehearsals been like?
JW: It’s been great. Tons of fun, if you can believe it. The group is dedicated and extremely hard working. It’s a lot of people we’ve worked with before but in different types of shows, and some that I’ve only worked with during readings. My goal has been to try to guide them to the places that are both effective but very terrifying. I’ve tried to keep things moving, but safe and exciting.

What are you most excited for audiences to see?
JW: I’m excited for them to hear probably one of the most complex and passionate plays in Shakespeare’s canon. Also, the work of these actors is extraordinary, so I’m very excited for people to see and be a part of that.

What are you most nervous about?
JW: Nothing specific. I’m nervous for the actors. They have to be extremely vulnerable, in a very intimate space. A lot of the themes and parts of the language spoken can be very uncomfortable. But that’s the “Shakespeare Muck” as I like to call it. “The Shakespeare Muck” is gross, vile, harsh, scary, interesting, multifaceted, and hard to define. We’ve got to live there during the time the play is on, both actors and audience.

What do you want audiences to know before seeing the show?
JW: The play on some level – in motive, timeline, or thematic intention – relies on confusion. “Tis here but yet confused” take that to heart.

Emilia is a complex character what has been your approach to embodying her and the struggle of conscience/ loyalty she faces during the play?
JD: I think it’s important to remember that everybody struggles with things on their conscience from time to time. The thing that is so relatable with Emilia’s situation in the play is that she starts out with the best of intentions. A happy accident occurs that she thinks can help her relationship with her husband and cause no harm to her friend, and then it gets away from her entirely. Now faced with a choice of admitting to her friend that she lied, and risk losing the only friend she seems to have or continue to lie about it to keep her friendship alive and try and fix the problem on her own. What would you do?

To some Emilia might be seen as a minor character, what do you think her importance is to the play?
JD: Emilia’s participation in this play is integral to the plot, without her it’s a different play. If she doesn’t give Iago the “proof” that Desdemona is guilty, then Othello won’t be convinced. She is also the only one who figures out what has happened and exposes Iago. I suppose you could say that it is because Iago regards her as a ‘minor character’ in his plot that she is able to expose him.

Do you see any parallels between Emilia and more modern day female characters?
JD: Yes. She is a woman with ideas and opinions who is constantly being debased and referred to as a slut by the men who surround her.

How has it been working with BASH’d for this show?
JD: Fantastic! This is my third time acting in a BASH’d production, and I love it every time.

What are you most excited about?
JD: I think the play itself is really great, it’s probably one of my favourite Shakespeares, so I’m just excited to get to be a part of this ensemble’s take on it.

What are you most nervous about?
JD: I repeat the same words and many synonyms in slightly different orders all through the second half of the play. I’m really hoping it doesn’t ever come out in an order that doesn’t make any sense! I don’t want to end up saying, “O my good ho! Lord, what?”

What should audiences know before coming to the show?
JD: Before and after the show grab a drink! During the show remember to keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times, and enjoy the ride!

James Graham as Iago with E.B.-Smith and Catherine Rainville as Othello and Desdemona -Photo byJonas-Widdifield

James Graham as Iago with E.B.-Smith and Catherine Rainville as Othello and Desdemona -Photo byJonas-Widdifield

Many consider Iago Shakespeare’s greatest villain, what has it been like trying to embody this character?
JG: A constant process of trial and error. While I feel like the villain label is far too simplistic, Iago’s motives are certainly muddy and it is never clear, from moment to moment, whether he is revealing something deeply true about his character or is always working to manipulate others. As a result, it is challenging to find an easy emotional hook for him. My feelings about why he does what he does seem to fluctuate from rehearsal to rehearsal and I don’t think will ever be resolved. This lack of control has been, by turns, unsettling but also thrilling. Iago gives me the freedom to act in the present and leave all judgment to the audience.

Do you see any redeeming qualities in Iago?
JG: Iago’s redeemable quality is that he is human. People who act in this way he does are often the most in need of love and I think characters like Iago challenge the limits of our empathy. My task is not to soften his actions but to incite the audience’s curiosity about why a man like Iago might be driven to act as he does.

Similar to Richard III, Iago has a pretty intimate relationship with the audience, what has been your approach to this aspect of his character?
JG: It all starts with investigating why Iago feels compelled to bring the audience directly into the world of the play. What do they offer him that the characters in the story do not? Does he want assurance, for example? Does he need to prove something to them? Again, Iago refuses to provide easy answers and might be the only character in Shakespeare who might be lying in his soliloquies. All I can do is continue to explore that core question and trust that each night will bring new inspiration.

How has it been working with BASH’d on this show?
JG: I feel incredibly lucky to be working with BASH’d for a second time. We share a mission to dig deep to find the most human choices in the play and a belief that exploration continues right through until closing night. I really appreciate the time BASH’d gives its actors to let them find their own voices inside these complex plays. I think it produces an immediacy that is rarely found in today’s classical productions.

What are you most excited about?
JG: The action of this play is so relentless that once it starts it feels like a boulder rolling ever fasting down a hall. I am very excited to be able to jump on that boulder with this remarkable group of actors at the beginning of every night and see what happens.

What are you most nervous about?
JG: Maybe some of Iago’s outsized confidence is rubbing off on me, but truthfully I am not nervous about much. I have absolute trust in this group and know that they will be there to catch me if I ever fall and vice versa. It is the biggest reason why I most excited to share this story in February.

What should audiences know before coming to the show?
JG: The opportunity to hear this incredible play delivered by such an accomplished ensemble in this intimate setting is a rare gift. If you love good storytelling, I highly recommend you join us at the Monarch Tavern.

Don’t miss out on what is sure to be an amazing show. Get your tickets now using the link below before the show because the entire run is almost sold out!

Show Info:
Shakespeare BASH’d presents:
By William Shakespeare

February 5-10, 2019
At the Monarch Tavern (12 Clinton St)
Tues-Sat at 8pm
Sat & Sun at 2pm

$20 in advance at
$25 in person at the door (pending availability)

Author Tori Carlisle

Toronto Regional Editor. Tori is a passionate high school English teacher based in Toronto. She holds a BA from the University of Toronto in English, History, and Renaissance and Reformation Studies, an MA in English Literature from York University, and a Masters of Teaching from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She is a lover of all things Shakespeare and cats!

More posts by Tori Carlisle

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