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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

Othello Returns to Shakespeare Theatre

Also see Bob's review of Hannah

Othello
Robert Cuccioli and Lindsay Smiling
When, with his lies and fabricated "evidence," the evil ensign Iago galvanizes his general, Othello, to avenge the cuckoldry to which he believes his beloved wife Desdemona has subjected him, the Shakespeare Theatre production of the Bard's turbulent melodrama Othello careens quickly and stirringly through the play's bloody and terrible climatic events. Once seen, these scenes remain indelibly in the mind, and this production fully realizes them.

However, it is the clear and thoughtful approach that director Bonnie J. Monte has taken to the exposition leading up to Othello's grand climaxes that distinguish the production at hand. The clarity and deliberate, steady pace allow us to freshly and fully contemplate all of the elements of what I have always found to be a problematic play. Thus, we find ourselves in the presence of an unusually rewarding "thinking man's" production.

It has surely been noted before that this play might well be titled Iago in recognition of its most vital, influential and compelling character. After all, Othello is merely a foolish pawn in his hands. It is interesting to contemplate a production in which Iago is depicted sympathetically. However, without a radical adaptation, it would be as hopeless an enterprise as the attempts I have seen to so portray Shylock. Robert Cuccioli's forceful portrayal of a bitter and hate-filled "passed over" soldier who has no moral compunction to using any means necessary to destroy his general is true to the role and the overwrought melodrama which encompasses it.

Lindsay Smiling is an appropriately stalwart Othello. Victoria Mack makes for a lovely, enchanting Desdemona. Would it be that Shakespeare had given her more with which to work. Jacqueline Antaramian as Emilia, Iago's wife and Desdemona's attendant, is sufficiently fierce in her anger and horror when she discovers the treachery to which Iago has made her a party.

Although Shakespeare mostly focuses in on these principals in this most circumscribed of his tragedies, crucial support is supplied by others. Bill Christ plays Brabantio, Desdemona's father who opposes his daughter's marriage to Othello, with such reasonable mien that his objection to the seemingly ideal Othello could only be based on bigotry toward the Moor. Jon Barker as Michael Cassio, the less experienced officer whom Othello selected to be his lieutenant setting off Iago's envious anger, is the picture of boyish innocence. How could Othello be persuaded that this Cassio has cuckolded him with Desdemona? As Roderigo, Desdemona's rejected suitor, Matt Bradford Sullivan captures the foolish earnestness which Iago plays on.

It is the clarity and natural pacing of the dialogue under the direction of Bonnie J. Monte that provides us the opportunity to focus on both the limitations and possibilities of Shakespeare's principals. For example, Othello is so maniacally jealous and vengeful, and so easily accepts weak circumstantial "evidence" damning Desdemona, that he is more an odious monster than "a man who loved not wisely, but too well." Might not Brabantio have seen beyond his reasonable sounding words and realized that his daughter was putting herself into an untenable situation? Would it be unreasonable to portray Othello as smirking and cunning in his false representation of his goodness? Similarly, might not Desdemona be either a vixen or a flirt who has earned Othello's jealousy, and roused Cassio's clear, if as yet unfilled, passion? And as for Emilia, might her expressed horror not be the decision to self protectively distance herself from an endangered Iago? I am in no way suggesting that this production would have been well served by any of these choices. My point is that this production is unusually thought provoking.

A complex, but unobtrusive, unit set by Bill Clarke with any number of moving parts quietly incorporates Moorish architectural motifs throughout, and then elaborates on them (most noticeably with hanging lamps) for the climactic bedroom scene. Paul H. Canada's appropriately classic costumes are excellent throughout. Although Canada's two-material, patterned dress for Amelia, in shades of red and purple, is so gorgeous as to be a distraction.

Othello was last produced here in 2002. Its return to Madison in this solid production is most welcome.

Othello continues performances (Evenings: Tuesday, Wednesday, Sunday 7:30 pm; Thursday, Friday, Saturday 8 pm / Matinees: Saturday, Sunday 2 pm) through October 2, 2011, at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, on the campus of Drew University, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison. Box Office: 973-408-5600, online: www.shakespeareNJ.org.

Othello by William Shakespeare; directed by Bonnie J. Monte

Cast
Iago..............................................Robert Cuccioli
Roderigo............................Matt Bradford Sullivan
Brabantio...............................................Bill Christ
Othello..........................................Lindsay Smiling
Michael Cassio.....................................Jon Barker
Duke of Venice/ Soldier.......................Eric Rolland
Venetian Senator/ Montano................Patrick Toon
Lodovico/ drunk soldier....................Jay Leibowitz
Desdemona......................................Victoria Mack
Emilia.................................Jacqueline Antaramian
Bianca.................................................Susan Maris
Officer/ Soldier/ Servant..David Joseph Regelmann
Officer/ Soldier.................................Jordan Laroya


Photo: ©Gerry Goodstein


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- Bob Rendell



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