Third Taboo Critical Reviews

Monday Magazine- Posted April 13-19, 2006

Taking Shakespeare Out of the Box

Go see The Third Taboo

Review By Naomi Lester

Updates of Shakespeare don’t always go well. Too often, they end up an unrealized vision—rather like a home renovation where the workers gave up and went for beer, leaving half the wallpaper and little of the foundation intact. To stretch the construction analogy, it takes a company who knows their dramatic stud-walls to give the Bard a new look without bringing the whole structure down around their ears. Such experiments can sometimes work well, however, as with Out of the Box’s latest effort, The Third Taboo: Othello in the 21st Century.

Gwen Dobie, writer and director, and William Mackwood, writer and designer, have made some wise choices that serve both their needs and the dramatic integrity of the original. Here, Othello’s battle ground is the corporate world, his conquests mergers and acquisitions. The text is a mixture of the original play and modern speech, with the two weaving together surprisingly well. While Shakespeare’s weighty drama is simplified to fit a two-hour time frame, the action still remains smooth and the characterizations logical. Some changes may surprise those who know Othello, but everything makes sense in the context of this opera. As “updates” go, this one was thoughtfully put together.

This is the third major production for Out of the Box, and so far each show has been better than the ones before it. The sets and lighting are simple but slick, with cityscapes projected on overhead screens to invoke the glass-and-steel corporate world. Much of the mood is set by musician Kelby MacNayr, who uses a wide range of percussion instruments to provide a sophisticated and moody soundscape throughout the performance; he provides a nice addition to Hiromi Bradshaw’s piano accompaniments.

As in the past, the drama is presented as “lounge opera”—a mix of acting, singing and movement in an intimate and relaxed setting. Snippets of standard opera repertoire are sung by the characters at appropriate moments in the action. Frédérik Robert is well-cast as Cassio, bringing a dexterous and sweet tenor to the role of the hapless officer. Vanya Abrahams is a sympathetic Othello, creating a believable boardroom warrior, and his rendition of Puccini’s “E Lucevan le stelle” was decidedly one of the highlights of the show. Soprano Charlene Donovan’s Desdemona is refreshingly independent, balancing the strong male leads.

Iago, played by Thrasso Petras, is not a singing part. The role is partly a “regular” character and partly a personification of the jealousy that afflicts Othello. In this latter function, Petras writhes about the stage wearing shorts, a comforter and sometimes a demonish tail, caressing Othello with creepy possessiveness; this works as an embodiment of all things icky, but it still felt a bit over-the-top at times. Nevertheless, his timing and sense of humour provided the right twist in an otherwise dark piece.

With an attractive and talented cast and an intelligent remodeling of the Shakespearean classic, The Third Taboo is a “go see” production that hits all the right notes for the 21st century. 

—Naomi Lester