Credit: Steven Townshend

In one of the strongest, visceral productions of Shakespeare running in this city now, the Babes With Blades production of Othello feels devastatingly contemporary. Under the swift direction of Mignon McPherson Stewart, nothing is as it seems in this defiant take on a 17th century text.

In classic Babes With Blades style, all members of the cast are women or nonbinary. Thus, Othello is played by the stellar Brianna Buckley, who gives an astounding performance, running the gamut from fierce flirt to terrifying embodiment of toxic masculinity. Othello is a lauded Moorish general who has won the heart of the dutiful Desdemona (a distinguished Sarah Liz Bell). This stirs up tension among the other characters, including Desdemona’s father Brabantio (Michelle McKenzie-Voigt) and her sad-boy discarded suitor Rodrigo (Rachel Mock). Racism runs rampant, but Othello asserts what he’s earned, leaving Iago (Kathrynne Wolf) perfectly poised to tear his reputation and marriage down with musings and whispers.

We sit in the round watching chaos unfold. A beautifully tiled floor supports a canopied platform with sheer curtains that transforms the space from scene to scene. This world is both the characters’ and ours. Director Stewart and fight/intimacy designer Samantha Kaufman juxtapose moments of tenderness and tension between Othello and Desdemona, from the playful rejection of a kiss to the unfortunate, gut-wrenching end. There is hope, and then there is nothing.   v