Austin Shakespeare's new staging of the tragedy is all the richer for incorporating the Rule of Three

Three's a crowd: Iago (Michael Miller) schemes to spoil the love between Othello (Marc Pouhé) and Desdemona (Sara Cormier).
Three's a crowd: Iago (Michael Miller) schemes to spoil the love between Othello (Marc Pouhé) and Desdemona (Sara Cormier). (Courtesy of Bret Brookshire)

Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center, 701 W. Riverside, 512/474-5664
Through March 2
Running time: 2 hr., 45 min.

Raphael's Three Graces, Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers, Edward Albee's Three Tall Women – triads have fascinated artists and writers for centuries. Dr. Ruth Harris is a lecturer in history at the University of Oxford. She says, "To exist, the triangle demands three complementary elements: love, power, and danger. Mixed incautiously, these elements, like those in physics, are volatile and potentially explosive."

This quote is particularly compelling in the case of Shakespeare's Othello, a story that presents us with a love triangle whose third point is imaginary. This deception lies at the heart of Othello's tragic story, and fittingly, the geometry of the triangle features prominently in the set design for this show. It is likely that Austin Shakespeare Artistic Director Ann Ciccolella, one of the city's treasures, worked closely with lighting and scenic designer Jason Amato to incorporate this dramatic Rule of Three into several aspects of this production, and our experience is all the richer for it.

Triangles provide the backdrop for various textural projections suggesting locations ranging from royal to botanical. A wooden riser is divided into three sections — a theatrical triptych flanked by a pair of stairs. In the second act, as Othello meditates on his criminal intent, three decorative pendant lamps hang above Desdemona's deathbed. Finally, by tale's end, three lifeless bodies are draped across it.

These symbols remind us how complicated things can become with the introduction of a third party. This story may not involve a love triangle, but the character of Iago – said to have inspired Milton when he conceived of Satan in Paradise Lost – certainly proves that three's a crowd. This is clever stagecraft that is more than skin deep, though its surface shimmers beautifully.

Costume designer Lucie Cunningham has assembled a delectable bricolage of 19th century beadwork, tassels, and sheen. Time and place doesn't feature in the action much, but this isn't a distraction. Amato proves himself once again to be an indispensable member of the Austin Shakespeare team as his ability to magically shift both mood and setting with nothing but light is damn near cinematic.

Although it is often remarked that Othello is actually Iago's play, this production clearly belongs to Othello, thanks to the stunning performance of Marc Pouhé, who returns to the role a second time and imbues this Moor with as much quiet elegance as enraged grief. Through it all, Pouhé is the Earl of Elocution. Austinites may recall the actor underwent a kidney transplant in 2012, and certainly his triumph onstage is a win for biology as well as art.

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Othello, Austin theatre, Austin Shakespeare, Ann Ciccolella, Jason Amato, Marc Pouhé, Lucie Cunningham

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