Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

An Inventive Production of Shakespeare's
Othello, The Moor of Venice

Also see Richard's reviews of Maple and Vine and The Caretaker

Craig Marker and Aldo Billingslea
Marin Theatre is presenting a creative production of the Shakespeare's tragedy Othello through April 22nd. This is a superb production, thanks to Jasson Minadakis's direction, the brilliant acting of Aldo Billingslea as Othello, and the invigorating action of Craig Marker as Iago.

Director Minadakis has made this a production for 21st century audiences. He has cut the play to two hours and thirty minutes with one intermission, intensifying the central drama. The women's roles are stronger, especially Aemilia (Liz Sklar) and Bianca (Rinabeth Apostol) who are dressed in Renaissance military costumes. Some scenes take place on an upper balcony of the set where Iago's first intrusion into Othello's self-satisfaction is so far from the audience that many cannot hear the conversation. In the side by side last scene, Aemilia and Desdemona (Mairin Lee) discuss the famous equal-rights-for-wives speech while at the same time Cassio and Rodorigo are fiercely fighting with swords at toward the back of the stage.

Minadakis is aware of the fact that uncontrolled rage is profoundly interesting to watch. It's as if his entire production stands in opposition to Desdemona's phase, "I understand a fury in your words, but not the words." It is not an Othello for the ages, but it is worth a look for anyone who has never seen the tragedy or someone who wants to see an interesting version of the Bard's play.

Over the years I have seen many productions of Othello, both in the United Kingdom and in this country, with such English luminaries as Laurence Olivier, Paul Scofield and Patrick Stewart playing the disastrous Moor. The last production I saw was in 1999 by the Royal Shakespeare Company in London starring Ray Fearon. I was also friends with Orson Welles when he making his sterling film version of the tragedy

Aldo Billingslea gives a commanding performance as Othello. He makes a good impression at the beginning of the play, dignified, noble and heroic in his appearance before the Venetian senate. As the evening progresses he brilliantly gives the audience terrifying scenes of epileptic fits. He is faultless as the African commanding officer of the Venetian troops and he inhabits the resonant beauty of some of the Bard's greatest verse with absolute muscle power. At the end, as he sweeps Desdemona's body up in his arms, his wretched cry is shockingly powerful.

Craig Marker puts a different spin on Iago. I have seen this character as an insidious, snickering, thin faced fellow you would not want to know. Ian McKellen and Anthony Sher have portrayed the character. Marker plays the role beautifully as a person full of charm, and Iago's ability to deceive everybody is completely believable. Yet, underneath all of the charm there is a driving energy of rancorous, destructive negativity that leads Iago to detest Othello for his "free and open nature" and loathe Cassio for the simple reason that "he hath a daily beauty in his life that makes me ugly." It is an amazing performance.

Patrick Russell is excellent as Cassio and plays the role as an open-faced optimistic schoolboy. Mairin Lee is charming as Desdemona, but in this production she has little do with the character. She is mournful in her "Willow Song" and the death scene. Liz Sklar gives a strong performance dressed in a soldier's outfit as Aemilia. She gives a compelling performance in her speech at the end of the play.

Dan Hiatt makes the most of his small performance as Desdemona's bitter father and plays a mean bouzouki in a musical scene in the first act. Nicholas Pelczar is splendid as Iago's unfortunate foil Rodrigo. Rinabeth Apostol gives a fine, sensual performance as Bianca. Khris Lewis is effective in three roles, including Lodovico.

J.B. Wilson has designed a set that somehow looks like one of the Mayan stone works, while Kurt Landisman's moody lighting is very effective in many scenes. Fumiko Bielefeldt's Renaissance military costumes are excellent.

Othello, The Moor of Venice runs through April 22nd at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller, Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit Coming next will be Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage opening on May 24 and running through June 17.

Photo: David Allen

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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