Othello is one of the crown jewels of Shakespearean plays. The tragedy of Othello, a black general in the ranks of the Venetian army, is one of an eminent outsider who falls in love and marries a white noblewoman, Desdemona. His right hand man Iago dupes him into believing Desdemona has been faithless, and leads Othello to murder her and subsequently take his own life. There have been countless interpretations of this story over the years, and Chesapeake Shakespeare’s production treads but lightly over its complex layers.
Though it’s titled Othello, the action of the play is often about Iago and his jealousies. The actor who plays Iago has more lines and scenes than the title character. Duplicity versus innocence, the underhanded man versus the honorable and trusting Othello- there’s the meat of the play.
But actor Jose Guzman is rather overblown as Iago, with oversized gestures and expostulations; the character just doesn’t seem to jive as the sly and subversive second in command. Granted, it’s a large part- Iago is evil from stem to stern- but Guzman appears to have been coached by director Ian Gallagner to operate on a different frequency from the rest of the cast.
Roderigo, as portrayed by Elliot Cashner, is likewise larger than everyone else. Though this character traditionally provides some comic relief, he is here portrayed as so bada-bing as to step outside the universe of everyone else. These are rather glaring errors for a play of such delicacy of speech, and it really prevented the audience from focusing on the play as a whole.
As Othello, Jason B McIntosh certainly looks the role, with an imposing physique and commanding voice. But again, the undertones of the play are lost here- for example, why is Othello so gullible? Has he been a soldier so long that he can only see ‘us’ and ‘them’ but is unable to see shades of grey? McIntosh often seems to just steamroll through scenes, with little communication to the audience about what the character is thinking or feeling. It’s a great pity, for Othello has some of the most beautiful speeches ever written- his soliloquy upon realizing that he has murdered his innocent wife can be heartrending.
Desdemona, as portrayed by Diane Curley, is capable enough, but she, too, doesn’t seem to plumb the depths of the character much. For the heart of the play is about love and its blindness, but we saw no real rapport between Othello and Desdemona. She seems fond of the man, certainly, but not head over heels.
The best acting in the show is in the smaller roles. As Cassio, Alex Miletich IV has an explosive moment with Iago when he laments the loss of his reputation. It’s one of the truest pieces in the play, and I found myself genuinely sorry for Cassio, used so thoughtlessly as a pawn. Stephen Lopez has but a few scenes in multiple roles, but his Duke of Venice seemed most human, and the picture of nobility as he entreats Desdemona’s father to forgive her for marrying without permission. As Emilia, Iago’s wife and another unwitting tool in Othello’s destruction, Briana Manente was above reproach; her horror at her husband’s actions was genuine, and provided the stable backdrop for the denouement of the last act.
closes October 9, 2016
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Production values at Chesapeake Shakespeare continue to be high- how could they not, given the glorious new stage they have to work on? (And a note must be made here that if you haven’t seen a production here- any production- you are missing out: it’s one of the most beautiful stages in our area). A spare set of multicolored wood slats becomes a palace, a bedroom, and more, thanks to Technical and Scenic Director Daniel O’Brien. Costumes by Jacy Barber fared less well for this production, however. Though colorful and plentiful, with a somewhat Turkish influence, some shortcuts seemed to be taken along the way. Though most of the women were in lovely, gauzy gowns, the men looked mismatched, with odd Civil War military jackets and pants. I’m a huge fan of eclectic costuming, but it can be a tricky line between eclectic and grab bag.
All that being said, the sheer power of Shakespeare’s play remains. One is still moved by Desdemona’s death, Othello’s grief, and Iago’s deceit. This is an imperfect production of what is one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces performed in a matchless setting.
Othello by William Shakespeare . Directed by Ian Gallaner . Cast: Jason B McIntosh as Othello; Diane Curley as Desdemona; Jose Guzman as Iago; Briana Manente as Emilia/first Officer/First Senator; Alex Miletich IV as Cassio; Stephen Lopez as Duke of Venice/Lodovico; Jeff Keogh as Brabantino;Montano; James Jager as Gratiano/Third Senator; Elliot Kashner as Roderigo; Bethany Mayo as Bianca/Clown . Technical Director: Daniel O’Brian . Costume Designer: Jacy Barber . Costumes: Frank Labovitz . Production Manager: Patrick Kilpatrick . Stage Manager: Alexis E Davis . Produced by Chesapeake Shakespeare Theatre . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.
Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.