“Othello,” Shakespeare on the Sound

--Irene Backalenick

It’s June—and Shakespeare is bustin’ out all over, particularly in southern Connecticut. High standards, serious efforts, and Equity players mark the productions. Shakespeare on the Sound’s “Othello” is the latest offering, playing this month and next in two town
parks--first in Rowayton and then in Greenwich.

Under its new leadership (Artistic Director Joanna Settle’s second season), the company has made drastic changes in staging. Last year involved a wooden ramp, and this time around traditional set designs of the past have given way to a few raw wooden boards. Action plays out against an unadorned wooden backdrop, an open platform which extends from the backdrop, and a flight of stairs.

This innovative setting is both good news and bad news—good in that everything depends on natural surroundings. And Rowayton’s hillside setting, packed with absorbed viewers and their picnic hampers, has its own charm. Though Rowayton’s river no longer prevails, given this new configuration, there is still an exciting ambience to the scene.

But the bad news is that this non-set has difficulty creating a sense of place. Are we really in Venice—or a seaport in Cyprus? I think not. There is, in fact, only one moment when this staging works. It is when Othello himself first appears. He stands silently, high on the open platform, silhouetted against the fading light of day. For that moment, one believes in the awesome presence of Othello. (The story, of course, depicts the rise and fall of Othello, a noble Moor, who has dared to woo and win the aristocratic Desdemona.)

But such moments are rare in this production, and it would take a more powerful cast of players to create a believable world out of such limited materials. One wonders about the
casting -- or miscasting. Victor Williams (Othello) is more stiff than majestic, Stephanie Fieger (Desdemona) more hoydenish than ethereal and fragile. Yet Fieger has a rich, melodic voice, and Williams warms to his role, with emotions pouring forth, in the second act. Jesse J. Perez offers an intriguing interpretation to his Iago, turning him into a sleazy little schemer. Among the supporting players, Brian Tyree Henry (Cassio) and Triney Sandoval (Brabantio) create solid, believable characters. But Stephanie DiMaggio (as the loyal maidservant Emilia) is, inappropriately, a sexpot, dressed in tight-fitting army attire. In short, a mixed bag of players.

The play itself, given its strong theme—the corroding power of jealousy—can hardly miss. And over the years theatergoers have felt its power.  But, in this case, one comes away feeling short-changed.

 

This review also appears in the Conn. Post and nytheaterscene.com

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