Guest Blogger Feature: Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti '12CC

Alumni Artist

Guest Blogger Feature: Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti '12CC

Review of The Brewing Dept.'s Othello

This month Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti '12CC, CAA Arts Access Committee member contributes as a featured Guest Blogger. Elizabeth reviews a new production of Othello, presented by The Brewing Dept. Othello is on through November 22, 2015 at the Alchemical Theater Laboratory. Click here for ticket info.

“I treat Shakespeare’s plays like a calculus problem—there are just too many variables sometimes for me to solve in my head. So I need scratch paper.” A highly thoughtful and reflective theater artist, Thomas Kapusta ’12CC has approached The Brewing Dept.’s (TBD) production of Othello with an academic curiosity he developed while still an undergraduate. Balancing the three demanding roles of dramaturge, director, and villainous Iago, Kapusta has created a production focusing on possession. 

In a series of blog posts highlighting his editing process and directorial vision, Kapusta invited a collaborative dialogue with the loyal TBD fan base. Though a new approach for Kapusta, it is in keeping with the company’s mission. Founded in 2013 by Kapusta, Brian LaPerche ’12CC, Emily Kaplan '11BC, Jenny Vallancourt ’11BC, and Cody Holliday Haefner '12CC, TBD began as the natural product of many successful theater student theater productions with Columbia University Players, NOMADS, and Kings Crown Shakespeare Troupe. Many graduates of Columbia University design and perform in TBD’s shows, a testament to the company’s commitment to fostering a supportive community of artists. 

Currently, twelve Columbia alumni are featured in Othello, and they collaborate to create a show that is both a meditation on the banality of evil and a haunting depiction of obsessive love.

In the white-box space of the Alchemical Theater Laboratory, there is a sense of sterilized claustrophobia upon entering. This works to heighten the production’s sense of unease, further enhanced by minimal, stirring music design by Kathryn Hathaway ’11BC and sound design by Benjamin Weiner ’11CC. Design in general, in this production, focuses on a minimal aesthetic; futuristic costumes in white and black make good use of some kind of unnatural fabric in order to evoke the courtly dress of the Venetian court. Without much set, save a low, black central raised stage, one begins to feel that the characters do not belong anywhere, a fitting parallel to the themes of racial and social otherness within the show. Kapusta has edited the show to begin a new “scene” upon exits and entrances, which imbues the show with a rapid, calamitous pace, slowed purposefully in the famous, revealing soliloquies of Iago and Othello. 

“Honest” Iago—as he is, ironically, heartbreakingly, called some twelve times over the course of the show—can be played in multiple ways. In some productions, Iago is the devil incarnate, evil because that is his nature. Kapusta plays Iago more quietly, focusing on his estrangement from society as a motivating reason for his nefarious dealings. In pursuit of intimacy and ownership, Iago longs to possess Othello’s reputation and his power, and therefore logically comes to the means by which to secure them. Kapusta, with slicked-back hair and a black militaristic uniform, looks the part of the machinist. His foil, draped in white and embodied with an innocent sense of play by Jenny Vallancourt, is Desdemona. Desdemona is rarely seen on the stage alone, in contrast with Iago who is often isolated in order to plot his schemes. Desdemona, the possession, parallels Iago, the possessed. Smartly, Kapusta does not suggest that Iago is in fact in love with Desdemona, but rather places the two characters in opposition in order to more effectively influence the vacillating beliefs of Othello, caught in between. 

“To paraphrase Peter Brook," Kapusta wrote on the TBD Othello blog,”if you’re going to perform surgery on Shakespeare’s play, you better know where the heart is.”  TBD has a lot of heart, passionately pursuing a commitment to theater on their means with young theater professionals. It is a testament to the will and ingenuity of the founding members of the company that they have continued to see such success with their shows over the two years of productions. As they continue to hone, refine, and expand, something interesting is certainly brewing.