We spent a lot of time checking in within our circle tonight, as there is a lot going on with some members of the group, and we all wanted to listen as they shared. The support and strength coming from the circle were heartening – the willingness to listen, to offer condolences and gentle advice, and to segue into group jokes and more lighthearted talk that enabled us to move on… I was very glad that we took the time that we did.
We then finished reading Act II Scene III, intending to get it on its feet. But the group discussion surrounding the scene and characters was so intense, enlightening, and constructive that we never quite got there – and no one seemed to mind.
We talked a lot about Iago and our varying “takes” on him. Some think that he’s arrogant and out to prove something – either he doesn’t think he’s that bad or he doesn’t care. One woman believes strongly that his intent is to prove how smart he is. Then someone mentioned that perhaps he is “evil,” and the conversation took a turn toward the stuff that is at the heart of the work that we do.
“He’s NOT evil,” said one woman. “Just imagine if you’d worked your whole life toward something, only to be passed over and have nothing to show for it. I’d break down, too.”
“It must be exhausting, carrying around all those resentments,” said another. “This is me six years ago – I know how this feels.”
“How many of us have dated Iago?” asked one woman, and at least five others raised their hands. “I relate to Iago,” said another. “I dealt drugs, and I did them – I was always stealing from Peter to pay Paul.”
“Frannie always reminds us not to judge characters,” said a longtime member of the group. “Remember how a month ago I said I hated Cassio? Now I might like him. I might even want to play him… and I think you knew, Frannie.”
We all laughed. “Well, at first he can come off as kind of smug – he’s the Golden Boy, and nobody likes the Golden Boy,” I said, “But now that you’ve seen him take this fall, you can empathize with him more because it’s obvious that he’s not perfect… This is what we want to do - find our way in so we can understand and empathize with the characters – and sometimes that way in is through our personal experience.”
Sarah then said that she had gained new insight into Iago through what our ensemble was sharing. “Sometimes it just takes a person who’s walked a different path,” said a woman who’s been in the group for two years. “It is so strange, what you learn about yourself here. If you ever want to really learn about yourself, get locked up for a little while,” said another.
Another woman, who’d been rather quiet up to this point, said, “I don’t know… I really click with Iago. But, you know… I love like Othello, and I hate like Iago.” Many ensemble members nodded. “That’s the thing about this group,” she continued, “At so many points, it just shows me myself. I never thought I would be using this… but I use it in real life.” She elaborated a bit, speaking about using traits of the character she played in Shrew to guide her in one of her current pursuits.
We then branched off into a conversation about the influence of Othello’s military experience on his behavior in the play. Soldiers need to take their “fight-or-flight” responses and react properly, which often means staying calm while being on high alert. “It’s like being here,” said one woman. Another pointed out that it is selfless to serve one’s country as a soldier, and Kyle reminded all of us that, while that may be true, this isn’t Othello’s country – which other characters point out constantly – and that may give us more insight into him.
We briefly talked about Roderigo, too, as we ended our reading of the scene. Again he is ready to give up, and again he lets Iago pull him back into the plot. What’s going on with him? “Maybe he just has nothing to lose,” said one woman. This made a light bulb go off for me – when you truly have nothing, you often cling to some crazy hope. Maybe that’s the way in for whomever plays this character.
We are not even halfway through the play, and already the group’s insight is staggering to me. They are teaching me so much about this play, and I am so honored to be with them through this process.