Othello can be a bit of a tough sell. Not only is it one of Shakespeare's most racially insensitive plays (and that's saying something), but even the most credulous audience member might wonder why the title character, a warrior with a reputation for bravery and a Moor known for his passion, can be so easily persuaded to think the worst of his great love.
The key to our willingness to suspend disbelief is Iago, whose cunning not only dissolves Othello and Desdemona's devotion but nearly succeeds in toppling an entire kingdom. This performance can make or break the show, and fortunately for this Portland Center Stage production, Gavin Hoffman's nuanced portrayal of Othello's BFF/enemy-in-disguise has the stroke of genius about it.
The same can be said of Dana Green's turn as Iago's wife, Emilia. It's a small role but an essential one, and in Green's hands, the scene in which Emilia and Desdemona lament a woman's lot (to love, cherish, sacrifice and suffer) is both poignant and edifying.
The players get help from Scoff Fyfe's gorgeous, rotating set and Susan E. Mickey's sumptuous costumes. This production, helmed by PCS artistic director Chris Coleman, doesn't attempt anything radical—it's Shakespeare at its most traditional, but that also makes it a perfect start to the Complete Works Project, a two-year initiative during which several Portland cultural institutions will attempt to stage the Bard's full 37-play catalog.
If Shakespeare be the food of love, play on.
GO: Othello is at the Gerding Theater, 128 NW 11th Ave., 445-3700. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Sundays; 2 pm Saturdays-Sundays; noon Thursdays through May 11. $38-$72. Tickets here.