BWW Review: Tension-Filled, Tempestuous OTHELLO at TAM
In a spare, tautly sculpted performance of Shakespeare's classic tragedy of deceit and jealousy, The Theater at Monmouth's offers a gripping, tension-filled and tempestuous account of Shakespeare's Othello. Staged in simple contemporary dress with a strong cast, the production bears witness to the timelessness of the tale.
Directed by Catherine Weidner, the action moves swiftly and seamlessly with a great naturalness both in the actors' delivery and in the overall situational feel of the production. Weidner heightens the dramatic irony of the piece, engaging the audience's involvement in the subtle duplicity of Iago and making Othello's tragic fall advance to its inevitable end all the more rivetingly. She stresses the concept of "honest Iago" and the villain's skillful dissembling seems so subdued and natural as to be all the more lethal. Her vision of Othello's tragic flaw is somewhat less effective; she sees in the noble hero a child-like vulnerability that degenerates into a debilitating emotional state when his world is threatened; his rages are temper tantrums so furious that they throw him into epileptic fits. These moments provide for some intense and brilliant acting but, to this critic, somewhat undermine the towering noble stature of the character, whose fall seems all the harder the more we believe his greatness.
That said, Wardell Julius Clark gives a powerful account of the title role and of the director's vision. He is a thoroughly human, sympathetic hero whose difficulties as a black man in a white power structure are quietly in evidence. He manages the emotional transitions with intensity and credibility and plays the last scene to the hilt, leaving the audience with chills. Ryan Vincent Anderson makes a perfect foil as Iago. He skillfully disguises the manipulative side of the character, sharing his malicious objectives in fleeting asides only with the audience, while cajoling and maneuvering his prey with laser-focused purpose. Bradley Wilson makes a fine Cassio - a young man with the vices of youth (wine and women), but a loyal and well-meaning one. When he discovers the unwitting part he has played in Iago's plot, he brings to his realization a depth of emotion that measurably adds to the catharsis of the last scene.
Josh Carpenter makes Roderigo the perfect dupe for Iago's plotting - a bit hot headed, ambitious, and easily fooled. James Noel Hoban is an elegant Duke of Venice; as Desdemona's father, Mark S. Cartier makes Brabantio a stern and entitled Venetian nobleman. Travis Johnson as Lodovico and H. P. Guimont as Montano round out the Venetian contingent nicely.
The trio of female roles is all richly limned. Kelsey Burke makes for a beautiful Desdemona, a woman bound by the conventions and expectations of her time, but also one with a spark of independence, willing to pursue an unconventional marriage and to speak up in defense of a friend for what is right. Maggie Thompson's performance as Emilia is one of the highlights of the final scene. In some of the most outspoken speeches Shakespeare ever wrote for an actress, she shows her mettle in confronting Othello and her husband after Desdemona's death, and though it means her own death, she dares to speak what is right and true. Lucy Lavely proves a colorful Bianca who is both winsome and seductive as Cassio's trollop. Ably rounding out the ensemble are Mackenzie Shaw, Emery Lawrence, Ben Shaw, and CJ Stewart.
The attractive unit set by Dan Bilodeau shifts between Venice and Cyprus with the change of backdrop, while Matthew Anderson lights the space with a warm Mediterranean palette. Kathleen Payton Brown designs the attractive contemporary clothes - simple khaki military uniforms for Othello and his soldiers, evening wear for the Venetians, classic-linEd White and pale pastel dresses for the women. Rew Tippin provides the sound design which aids in the transition with Western and Middle Eastern music and sets the contemporary tone before the curtain with jazzy pop tunes played sotto voce. Leighton Samuels stages the especially vivid fight sequences.
In a perfectly calibrated production gauged to play powerfully in the intimate space of Cumston hall, TAM's Othello showcases the depth of the ensemble and the company this season.
Photo courtesy of TAM
Othello runs in repertory until August 19, 2017 at The Theater at Monmouth, 796 Main Street, Monmouth, ME www.theateratmonmouth.org