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Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Dan Donohue as Iago wretches and heaves on the outdoor Elizabethan stage, consumed by jealousy. He hates the Moor (title character, Othello). And his hatred sucks the life blood of all he touches. He’s a sort of human “black hole” with a seemingly bottomless capacity to wreck havoc.
Dan Donohue’s Iago has a history; he is human. While the audience doesn’t know much about what makes Donohue’s Iago so cruel and relentless in his pursuit of Othello’s downfall, we get clues.
This Iago convinces himself (and us) in intimate, inviting, even seductive soliloquies that he has been wronged; Iago is, at least as he imagines things, more sinned against than sinning. Othello has slept with his wife, Emilia. The Moor appointed the far less sea-experienced Cassio, instead of him, lieutenant. Iago gives a jealous spin to everything that affects him. Some real, some concocted.
It seems that Iago’s status in society causes him to hit glass ceilings; he is thwarted in his attempts to assume and wield a position of power.
So (he seems to reason) why not take power into my own hands? Iago’s “power” becomes evident in his brilliant ability to make others do his bidding. He is always thinking several strategic steps ahead of those around him. Unable to rise in official status, he assumes a superior position through deception and manipulation. His internal engine runs on jealousy.
In M. Scott Peck’s unnerving analysis of evil (People of the Lie), he defined evil as “the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion….”
Seeing Donohue’s Iago, we have discovered the poster child of Peck’s evil. Donohue’s Iago is directing, manipulating situations and people at every turn. And, his stage direction is always to control and subvert others to his implacable will: getting revenge on the Moor.
Donohue reveals a profoundly human Iago, not Coleridge’s “motiveless malignancy”—evil without reason. This Iago lets jealousy direct his brutal treatment of Othello, Desdemona, his own wife Emilia, and Cassio, among others. The playgoer is left to decide whether or not this Iago is, indeed, more sinned against than sinning.
Whatever the objective truth about his situation, Iago has become the lie he has told himself over and over again, like a perverse, infectious mantra: Othello has robbed him of what is rightly his. And (his logic goes) he has a right to get what he’s owed by hook or by crook. No matter how many lives he takes down in the process.
Donohue gives ultimate expression to Peck’s notion of the “person of the lie” in his 2008 season Iago. Be ready to move from laughter at Iago’s schemes to tears at the tragic consequences, as Iago envelops the protagonists of the play, and us, in his web of lies.