Brad Myers has directed a lot of Shakespeare, but never "Othello."
Now it's time.
"I have been waiting … waiting … waiting … for a student actor who had the chops to play Othello," says the Fresno State theater professor. "Little did I know I would have two such actors in our program at the same time."
That pair would be Myles Bullock and Ryan Woods, names that are well known to Fresno theater audiences. They were two of the 16 students who in 2013 went all the way to the American College Theatre Festival acting finals at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Bullock and Woods will alternate performances in the Fresno State production, which opens today. Myers says that depending on the performance, audiences will experience personal interpretations from "two very different, equally gifted actors."
The cast includes another veteran of the Kennedy Center competition: Fresno State alum Brandon Petrie, who plays the jealous Iago. Kia Vassiliades plays Desdemona, Othello's wife.
"Othello" — which tells the story of a Moorish general in the Venetian army who gets caught up in a web of love, jealousy and betrayal — is often mined in contemporary productions for its themes of racism and xenophobia. Those issues are obviously applicable to American culture today.
But Myers is also intrigued with the intergender dynamics of the play. The military and the government — the institutions that dominate Othello's life — are fiercely masculine cultures. The structure and hierarchies of these institutions offer a sense of order, and the men of the play most comfortably thrive under those conditions.
Toss romance into the mix, however, and all that structure gets blown up. That's where you get the sparks of the play in terms of the title character. "His journey from a blissful newlywed to an enraged jealous husband provides the play's greatest arc," Myers says in his director's notes.
He is giving the play a contemporary setting. When the action shifts from Venice to Cyprus in the second act, Myers is designating the locale as an unspecified U.S. military occupation in the eastern Mediterranean region — "a Muslim nation, a land of male domination over women and a barbaric and dangerous domain."
Myers is thankful that his long wait paid off in the form of not one but two strong Othellos. (Woods will play the role May 2, 4, 7 and 9, and Bullock will perform May 3, 6, 8 and 10.)
"It appeared that the planets had aligned, allowing us to produce a very special offering of this remarkable play," he says.
"Othello," through May 10, John Wright Theatre, Fresno State. www.fresnostate.edu/artshum/theatrearts, (559) 278-2216. $17, $15 seniors, $10 students.