Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Othello (Shakespeare & Co Lenox Ma.)

RUN don't walk to see "Othello" out at the S&C's "campus" in Berkshires!
As the Bard's A-list tragedy's go, Othello can be a problem, most productions telephone in the race angle and just let the modern sensibility do the rest. As far as casting goes, you have to hit a trifecta, a strong but not ludicrously bombastic Othello, an Iago who doesn't come off as "Dr. Zachary Smith" and a Desdemona who isn't a bimbo in a whimple.
It is much harder than it looks believe me.
None of that is at issue with S&C's current Othello it is a strong production all the way through.
John Douglas Thompson was born to the part in the fashion of the late Paul Robeson, he is confident, soldierly, manly but fatally cursed with credulity when faced with Iago's subtle Venetian trickery. Most actors when they are called to fake an epilectic seizure, Othello's fugue of despair and jealousy, would come damn close to looking foolish...not Thompson though, he looks like he is dying down there on the floor.
Michael Hammond is also seemingly born to play Iago, full of false good fellowship and a sort of blankfaced false loyalty...Othello is simply no match for him when it comes to this sort of conflict.
And then there is Merritt Janson's Desdemona, as clueless and guileless as her poor Iago she tries a few subtle tricks of her own to get Cassio back into Othello's favor, and for her favor she ends up dead. Janson plays it straight up the middle and wisely avoids the easy path of dimwitted Elizabethan victim.
After the show I ran into a few old friends from my drudgework days at IBM, one of them had never seen Othello before and asked "Is it always a thru the wringer type experience?"
I replied "It is when done right".
Trust me, S&C's "Othello" is done right...I haven't seen the Moor executed at this high a level since Johnny Lee Davenport played him at the old S&C "Stables Theater" at the Mount.
Orson Welles once opined that all good theater is "written on the air" so make tracks for Lenox my friends whilst the air is still good.

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