Call this new Othello "scene study Shakespeare," if you like. William Shakespeare's complex tale of love, hatred, and jealousy has been stripped-down and watered down in its new production at the Stella Adler Theatre.
All the big pieces are generally there; the central story of the hateful Iago's treachery in convincing the Moor of of his wife's infidelities remains more or less intact.
But many of the details are gone. A couple of significant characters have been excised from the script entirely, many lines have been cut, and almost all of the surrounding has been whittled away to nothing. When this production doesn't seem like a series of barely connected acting exercises, it seems like a vapid soap opera, in which you expect melodramatic music to float over the sound system at any moment, highlighting a new, surprising plot point before a scene change.
Thankfully, it never gets that bad. But it seldom gets better. Director Robert Francis Perillo does very basic work on this Othello, and it's basically acceptable. While Perillo moves what's left of the story forward at a decent pace, the lack of variety in his staging leaves much to be desired - Iago utilizes much of the same blocking during his many asides to the audience, and every time a character sees someone approaching from offstage, it's staged in pretty much the same way (so we can see them too, of course).
The production does have one great asset, though, in its Othello. Esau Pritchett provides a towering physical and vocal presence, intimidating yet generally friendly. His best moment is near the end of the show when, in deciding to murder his wife, he turns into a raging animal before your eyes. Though he plays Othello without much of the vulnerability or doubt that might add suspense to the character's journey, Pritchett is always enjoyable onstage.
Sadly, Pritchett's intensity is matched by few others in the cast, especially Tom Oppenheim as Iago and Carolyn DeMerice as Desdemona. Oppenheim brings a thick, resonant voice and strong determination to his marathon-sized role, but reveals little new about Othello. He lacks much of the thoughtfulness and resourcefulness needed to pull off the role, delivering a mostly one-note performance that changes little from beginning to end. DeMerice plays Desdemona's middle ground well, but her highs and her lows are less believable. She comes across as rather cold and somewhat disaffected to begin with, so we never care when she meets her tragic end.
With the exception of Michael Grenham's unfathomable and buffoonish Roderigo, most of the supporting roles do better. Maureen Megibow, as Iago's wife Emilia, comes close, giving a mature and restrained performance, especially in her final scenes. As Cassio, perceived by Othello as Desdemona's lover, Jeff Taylor may be a bit bland, but handles some parts of the role (particularly his vital drinking scene) well. Armin Parsanejad and Timothy Boisvert, in the smaller roles of the Duke and Desdemona's father, do well during their few minutes onstage.
In the end, though, there's so much lacking in so many places, that even Pritchett's persuasive performance can't make the show as interesting and rich as the original text demands. With so much of the poetry and passion missing, what remains is a shell of what Othello can be.