Oak Park resident James Vincent Meredith has been chosen to play the lead role in Shakespeare’s spectacle, Othello. British director Jonathan Munby had crossed multiple states throughout the country in search of the right actor before he met Meredith in Oak Park, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“I knew from the first moments of our meeting that James would make a great Othello,” director of Oak Park actor and Steppenwolf ensemble member James Vincent Meredith said. “It’s an incredibly difficult role to cast,” Munby added. “It requires huge range, gravitas, vast emotion, and the ability to speak Shakespeare’s language. James is able to convey all this.”
For Meredith, taking on the main role is also a joyous opportunity to come back to Chicago after being three years on the road with his wife Cathy and toddler Evan performing across the United States.
Shakespeare’s tormented Moor is one of the actor’s first dramatic performances on stage so far this year. A 1989 Evanston Township High School graduate and now Oak Park resident, Meredith performs in Chicago Shakespeare Theater until April 10. The play is based on modern-day army circumstances, where Othello, a noble black man, marries the charming blonde Desdemona, portrayed by Bethany Jillard. Chicago Tribune describes the play as “a study in the monstrous power of obsessive jealousy as well as an exploration of racism and fear.”
Meredith said he did over a thousand performances of Book of Mormon, playing a Ugandan warlord, before taking on Othello’s role back in Chicago.
“I loved doing that show. Loved it,” Meredith said of Book of Mormon. “My family and I got to see the country and experience so many wonderful places. But I’ll tell you, it’s good to be back home.”
When James was cast in that play, he and his wife Cathy, an elementary school teacher, had to make some fast decisions under chaotic circumstances. “Within six months, we had a baby, sold our condo and left town. It was crazy, but it was also great. We’re not nine-to-fivers,” he said to Chicago Tribune. “But when we hit the three-year mark on the road, we were kind of like, it’s time to go home. Put down roots again.”
Meredith said he is excited to be back in Oak Park and noted that it has changed since they were gone. Now, he and his family are going to reacquire themselves with their surrounding neighborhood, which is close to Scoville Park.
“I love being able to go out the back door and having a back yard right there,” he said. “It’s great to be back living in our own actual neighborhood rather than a borrowed neighborhood.”
Othello runs through April 10 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which is located on 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago. For more information, call 312-595-5600 or visit Chicagoshakes.com.