Daver Morrison and Nikki Coble star in PCS' production of 'Othello.' Photo by Patrick Weishampel
You’ve seen him on television and you’ve heard his voice in films. But Daver Morrison, starring in Portland Center Stage’s “Othello,” was made for Shakespeare. He has appeared in almost every soap opera on the air – and co-starred in more than one – as well as a minor role in the hit drama “24.” He appears as the voice of Haywood Patterson in the documentary, “Scottsboro: An American Tragedy,” which recently won an Emmy Award for Best Non-Fiction Special.
In the PCS production of “Othello,” Morrison weaves a tale of love, jealousy and tragedy alongside Nikki Coble, who stars as his wife, Desdemona. Gavin Hoffman appears as Iago, the villain who poisons their relationship and spurs the loving husband to murder.
Meanwhile, PCS is putting on free productions of their youth-oriented “All’s Fair in Love and Shakespeare” project featuring multiracial casts performing comic love scenes from a variety of the Bard’s plays downtown at Director’s Park, Friday, April 11 at noon, and at the Multnomah County Central Library on Saturday, May 10, at 2 p.m.
The Skanner News traded emails with Morrison about “Othello,” Shakespeare and why the famous playwright’s work is still important today.
The Skanner News: What made you decide to become an actor?
Daver Morrison: When I was a kid, I performed in school plays and sang in church. I was also in the drama club in middle school and high school. I think, like a lot of kids, I always wanted to be the characters I saw on television shows and in movies.
In high school, I really began to fall in love with the English language and poetry, and I became curious about finding more depth in the characters I was playing in school plays. I was fortunate to have a drama teacher who had worked in the professional theatre.
In my senior year of high school, when I started applying to colleges, I had a lot of encouragement from my drama teacher to audition for college acting programs. With his help and the guidance of other mentors, I began the journey toward becoming a professional actor.
TSN: Who are your role models -- professionally and personally?
Morrison: There are a good number of actors who I really admire. Sidney Poitier is at the top of my list. The great work he has done, and his presence in the industry has helped to break down barriers and open doors. When he arrived on the scene, he gave the world the opportunity to see images of black people in a new and more positive light. I love the way he carries himself with such grace and a regal kind of poise and dignity.
Also, Denzel Washington is a tremendously skilled actor who has helped pave a path for other African American actors to achieve higher success in our industry. And I have to say Meryl Streep is, in my opinion, the greatest actor in terms of her full embodiment of her characters. Through her mastery of the craft of acting, she has set the bar very high. She is at the very top of the game and yet manages to approach it all with great humility- I really admire that.
TSN: Your experience is wide-ranging, with soap operas and commercials mixed with Shakespeare roles, “A Soldier's Play,” and voiceover portraying Heywood Patterson, one of the Scottsboro Boys. Of all the roles you have played, is there one that really resonated with you?
Morrison: I had a wonderful experience this past fall revisiting the role of Captain Davenport in "A Soldier's Play." Davenport is an officer in the U.S. Army at a time when there were very few black officers. The play takes place during WWII amid the racial tensions of the Deep South. It gives us a glimpse into the U.S. military at a time when it was segregated.
I feel like the play, in its way, pays tribute to African American soldiers and some of the many struggles they have gone through in negotiating military life. Over time, African American soldiers have overcome great odds in gaining the ability to rise through the ranks as equals to white soldiers, and in achieving recognition for their service to our country.
The play gives us a little education on an important time in our history. It invites us to contemplate and discuss the plague of racism in this country. It examines how we are affected by racism from external forces, and it also shines a light on internalized racism which can cause us to hate ourselves and our brothers. This kind of internalized hatred is something that is uncomfortable to talk about; we don't talk about it much.
TSN: Again, some of the roles you have played go straight to the heart of what's wrong in society today -- even “Othello.” Can you talk about playing this role, what parts of it do you think are still relevant in the 21st century?
Morrison: Part of what is appealing to me about "Othello" is what the play says about the power of true love or unconditional love. At the beginning of the play at least, before the play takes a tragic turn, Othello and his new wife Desdemona have somehow been able to see beyond their differences in terms of race, age and class. Desdemona, the young white daughter of a prominent, wealthy senator, falls in love with Othello, an older black soldier of fortune turned military general.
Desdemona, who seems to embody the purity of love, says that she "saw Othello's visage in his mind." I think this is quite beautiful. The human race seems to always find ways to focus on our differences in negative ways that divide us. I'm always quite moved by the idea that the power of Love can help us to transcend all our differences.
TSN: For Portlanders who think they would not like Shakespeare, can you explain why they are wrong? What's juicy about the Bard?
Morrison: Shakespeare's stories are filled with all the juicy stuff that we're familiar with in great stories-- Love, Romance, Adventure, Jealousy, Greed, Envy, Heartbreak, Betrayal, Scandal, Revenge, the struggle between good and evil.
Seeing a Shakespeare play is not much different from watching your favorite movie, prime time television show, or soap opera except perhaps that Shakespeare in his mastery of language asks us to listen a bit more carefully.
We may discover that his writing is a little better than what we're used to hearing as we listen to his amazing use of poetry in telling his stories. And, there's no need to be afraid of the poetry-- if you have a favorite song whether its rock and roll or hip-hop, it's because, whether you know it or not, you love the poetry in it. Plus, there's a lot of humor and even sword fights. Who doesn't love a good sword fight?
TSN: What’s the most important thing that audiences should know about this production? Morrison: We have a great team of artists, lead by our brilliant director Chris Coleman, working very hard to make this production as thrilling as possible. We are all very excited to share this production of "Othello" with our audience. From the period costumes, to the set design, to the music, to the talented acting ensemble-- this will be a production that no one should miss.
Find out more about PCS’s “Othello,” and get ticket information, at www.pcs.org.