Review by Tulis McCall
(6 Jun 2010)
I liked the first three or four minutes of this production very, very much. I cannot say the same for the other 160.
Here is what I think Othello needs at a minimum: 1) An Othello who is majestic, expansive and commanding 2) An Iago whose duplicity will make you look at the person sitting next to you and think twice. Lacking one of these is detrimental to a production. Lacking both a production is DOA.
This production lacks both. As Othello, Daniel Morgan Shelly is sincere in his work. In this role, however, he is out of his depth. He simply does not have the chops, and it is surprising that he was cast. He lacks the life as well as acting experience that is so very necessary to bring Othello up off the page. Othello is a giant who makes the earth tremble when he walks. When he falls the entire landscape changes. Mr. Shelly tries but fails to achieve either the height or the depth needed for this role.
As Iago Stewart Walker is also ill cast. In addition, his difficulty with lines makes you wonder how seriously he takes his work. For some reason, Walker made the choice to bring a light, chatty touch to Iago so that the flat out statements of hate have as much punch as a pitcher of ice tea. It is Iago’s passion that drives this story of revenge that is so convoluted it doubles back and bites its own tale. Lacking this passion, the play is merely words set to meter.
The rest of the cast was more or less unremarkable, with the exception of David Matthew Douglas putting in a good turn as the Duke of Venice and Jessica Angelskhan bringing color and depth to Desdemona’s maid, Emilia. As Desdemona, Jennifer Blood tries valiantly, but her maturity is more developed than this Othello so she is limited in what she can accomplish.
Oddly, the staging, sets and lights were terrific. The use of Whitney Kam Lee as a sort of narrative violinist and Rene “Cucusun” Reyes on the drums was a stroke of genius. The use of ropes draped in various configurations to define the playing areas was terrific. How is it that director, Cara Reichel, could pull those elements together to create some serious magic and then neglect to do the same with the actors? Haven’t the vaguest idea, folks.
Frankly, I don’t know why we keep turning to Shakespeare. Honestly. We are like dogs with bones, us humans. We find something we like, and we hang onto it. Never mind that there is a perfectly good one or two bazillion other bones around the yard. Feh on those. And I’m not even whining about the dearth of good women’s roles found in Shakepeare. I’m totally not.
But if we are going to keep on keeping on, then we need directors who understand that Shakespeare’s plays are behemoths. They are all “come-sit-go-stay” overlaid on plot lines that fly off the charts of reason with regularity. These plays require directors who will keep a finger to their pulse at all times. They also require actors who will uphold the same level of vigilance with precision while they fly without a net.
Those needs were not met with this Othello. Not even close. Yet another theatrical mystery of the unfortunate variety.