THEATER | Lots of laughs, but no funny business: A searing “Othello” by Ten Thousand Things


If Dominic Papatola is right about their philosophy, the Ivey Awards jury will be too nice to shoulder aside other actors to honor Luverne Seifert for two consecutive years, acknowledging his turn in Othello the year after giving him an award for playng the title role in The Transmogrification of Philip K. Dick. If anyone can motivate the Ivey jury to be mean, though, it’s Seifert, whose Iago is the most richly villainous character I can recall seeing on a local stage.

Ten Thousand Things sounds like a project that’s really nice in theory: enlisting some of the top creative talent in local theater to produce streamlined shows designed to be performed in bare rooms before audiences who may not get to see a lot of live theater (notably, prisoners). Amazingly, the concept works even better in reality than in theory. Not only is live theater spread to diverse audiences, the productions actually benefit artistically from their logistic limitations. Even the fact that the house lights stay up throughout the performance works in the productions’ favor, as it creates the kind of audience-performer relationship that’s impossible in traditional darkened venues.

Othello is the production that opens the company’s three-show season, and it’s a doozy. In a production that renders Shakespeare’s language completely transparent (okay, maybe 90% transparent) to contemporary ears, Seifert and the rest of the cast romp from broad comedy to high tragedy in just over two intense hours.

othello, playing through november 15 at open book and the minnesota opera center. for tickets ($25) and information, see

The eponymous Moor is played by Ansa Akyea, an infallibly winning actor; I was curious to see whether he could summon the necessary anger and intensity for the role, and can he ever. His charm in the early scenes makes his later fall all the more poignant. As his fatefully faithful wife Desdamona, Tracey Maloney is perfectly cast: with her high cheekbones and beautiful eyes she looks like she could marry a Kennedy, and she brings to the role an intelligence that makes Othello’s belief that she could deceive him more plausible than is the case with typical shrinking-violet Desdamonas.

The show belongs to Seifert, though; as the manipulative Iago, he bats the other characters around like a cat playing with a roomful of wounded mice. As does Christiana Clark in the role of Iago’s wife, Seifert finds unexpected layers of comedy in the play. You can bet the farm that you are never again going to encounter a production of Othello that gets this many intentional laughs. Whether or not going for so many laughs serves the play as a whole is a legitimate question that might be asked of co-directors Michelle Hensley and Sonja Parks, but it must help the company connect with their intended audiences and it adds an entirely new level of enjoyment for those who thought they were familiar with the play. At any rate, it doesn’t significantly compromise the weight of the play’s tragedy, and it doesn’t dilute Iago’s malice. Superhero movies beyond number have foundered trying to give audiences a villain who’s both frightening and funny; in this respect, inmates at Shakopee Women’s Corrections might be better off than hundreds of millions of moviegoers.

Last year when I was writing an article on the history of Twin Cities theater, I interviewed a number of established local directors, actors, and writers. One of the questions I asked was, “What local theater company are you especially excited about?” The answer I heard more often than any other was Ten Thousand Things. Now I understand why.