Each year, Houstonians partake of the Bard’s finest works during the Houston Shakespeare Festival (HSF) at Miller Outdoor Theatre. Presented by the University of Houston’s School of Theatre & Dance, HSF has delivered free world class performances to audiences for 37 years.
This year, the festival welcomes a few new faces. Television, stage and film actor Seth Gilliam will make his HSF premiere in the title role of “Othello, the Moor of Venice.” Directing this play will be Gilliam’s wife, award-winning theater veteran Leah C. Gardiner. She also is making her HSF debut.
Television audiences will recognize Gilliam from his role as Sgt. Ellis Carver on acclaimed HBO series “The Wire” or as Clayton Hughes on HBO’s prison drama “Oz.” Gilliam also has appeared on the big screen in films such as 1996’s “Courage Under Fire,” 1997’s “Starship Troopers” and 2009’s “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” He now has a recurring role on new MTV series “Teen Wolf.”
“Working on shows like ‘The Wire’ and ‘Oz’ was very much like working on the level of a Shakespeare play,” Gilliam said. “The specificity of the characters set those shows apart from other dramas.”
Gilliam’s first love is the stage, and the works of Shakespeare factor significantly into his resume. In 1990, his first professional role just after graduating from State University of New York at Purchase was playing Prince Edward in “Richard III” (opposite Denzel Washington as the title character). Last year, he performed the title role in Boston’s Commonwealth Shakespeare Company’s production of “Othello, the Moor of Venice.” In October, he will star opposite Sam Waterston in “King Lear” for the Public Theater in New York.
“Acting for stage, television and films requires three very different styles,” he said. “I prefer stage acting because it’s a lot more fun to do. There is instant communication with the audience. An actor can tell whether or not he or she is connecting with an audience or whether they understand what’s going on.”
Gardiner’s directing career has taken her to stages across the country. Her credits include “Fences” at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, “Topdog/Underdog” at Philadelphia Players Company, “Earthquake Chica” at New York’s Summer Play Festival, “Bulrusher” at New York’s Urban Stages Theater and “Blue Door” at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, Calif. In May, she and playwright Debbie Tucker Green received an Obie award for their work on the U.S. premiere of “Born Bad” at Soho Repertory Theatre in New York.
In addition to directing her debut production for HSF, Gardiner also is directing “Othello, the Moor of Venice” for the first time.
“People are familiar with Othello’s story,” Gardiner said. “We’ve all experienced some sort of betrayal. We all have fallen in love. There is a romanticized nature to Othello that is present in contemporary society and will never go away.”
“Othello, the Moor of Venice” will be performed at 8:30 p.m., July 29, 31, Aug. 2, 4, and 6 at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The Houston Shakespeare Festival also will present “The Taming of the Shrew” at 8:30 p.m., July 30, Aug. 3, 5, and 7. All performances are free.
The Houston Shakespeare Festival premiered in 1975. HSF productions have featured rising talents and esteemed stage veterans. Among previous master thespians who have participated in HSF was Oscar-nominated actor Dan O'Herlihy, who played the title role in the festival's production of “King Lear.” Regional star Ken Ruta also contributed his talents to HSF, starring as Prospero in “The Tempest.” For more details on this year’s performances, visit http://houstonfestivalscompany.com/.