by Jessica Lanman

It’s a hike to the Nelson Rehearsal Hall, over three flights of stairs from the ground floor of the Lederer Theater, but the gathered crowd of cast, crew, staff, donors, and longtime subscribers are excited, if a little out of breath, just before the first reading of Othello, Trinity Rep’s next production which starts performances February 15. People laugh, and chat, and search for folding chairs. Pretty soon, we’re all settled in, and the reading can begin.

Often, first rehearsals begin with introductions from everyone attending (names, and job positions or their relationship to Trinity Rep or the show), a few words from the director, and then design presentations. Today, we’re keeping our words short. The intros move quickly; we skip having full presentations, instead of keeping the design work plastered all over the walls (we can see we’re aiming for a modern setting with this production, lots of army fatigues and a fairly minimal set, save for a bed). Even director Whitney White keeps her words short. It’s clear–we’re here for the text.

From the first few lines, the room is enraptured, although that could be Stephen Thorne’s brilliant reading as Iago as much as it’s Shakespeare’s words. Stephen is having a blast with the lines, already physically engaging with the cast at the table, and the whole room is thoroughly enjoying themselves. Perhaps not the most natural reaction to Othello, but we have to enjoy what moments of levity we have in a play like this!

Jude Sandy’s beautiful voice glides over Shakespeare so well, you’d think he was born speaking old English. He’s truly going to be a stunning Othello. Rebecca Gibel (Becky, to us) dazzles as Desdemona too, but not in her first scene–only because she isn’t here just yet! She’s running late, so L’Oreal Lampley, our wonderful Bianca in this production, fills in for a few minutes. It’s again a bit of laughter and fun since L’Oreal is conversing with herself, but things simplify when Becky arrives, and we get to appreciate her performance as well. This cast has amazing energy and chemistry, and director Whitney White (who laughs the hardest out of everyone) seems endlessly pleased with everyone. How can you not enjoy the vibe of this rehearsal hall? Even if this tale of jealousy is already taking some dark turns thanks to the dastardly Iago.

We hit intermission with Othello believing he should be wary of Desdemona, Cassio, and a particular handkerchief (today played by a Kleenex pulled by Angela Brazil, our illustrious Emilia). As the crowd socializes and has some snacks, we can see with the cast some of Othello’s jealousy might be justified–Becky and Charlie Thurston, the dashing Cassio, are pretty close since the actors are married! Emilia and Iago, Angela and Stephen, are married as well, making this particular cast pretty well thought-out, and pretty funny.

But except for an astonishingly hilarious reading of Roderigo by Mauro Hantman (seriously, he’s just sitting and talking and we’re all howling), the second half plunges into the darkest part of the play, with Othello thoroughly convinced of Desdemona’s infidelity, Desdemona’s bewilderment, and Iago’s plan tragically coming to complete fruition. The audience for this reading is leaning forward, tense by the time (spoiler alert for a 415-year-old play) Othello smothers Desdemona to death, and the deaths that follow do little to comfort. Still, it’s an amazing text, exploring so many deep and complex relationships, and with this cast, this production is going to be stunning. With Whitney White’s direction, we’ll be in for something special, the whole room is sure of it. We can’t wait for more!

But sadly, we’ll have to wait to hear these actors say these lines again–they need to start their dive into rehearsal, and so we all begin the trek back downstairs. To call this a successful first rehearsal would be an understatement–that was an experience. And the show promises to be even better. Othello runs February 15 – March 15, 2018.