Roger’d Moor: Othello

 

Brandon Walker, Ian Moses Eaton, Logan Keeler

Brandon Walker, Ian Moses Eaton, Logan Keeler

 

Erin Cronican, Ian Moses Eaton, Brandon Walker, John DArcangelo

Erin Cronican, Ian Moses Eaton, Brandon Walker, John DArcangelo

 

Logan Keeler, Brisa Freitas

Logan Keeler, Brisa Freitas

 

 

 

 

 

 

by: JK Clarke

 

Lila Smith, Erin Cronican, Brandon Walker

Lila Smith, Erin Cronican, Brandon Walker

Othello is a difficult play to produce. Though it’s one of Shakespeare’s more renowned works, and is an accessible story, it is too heavy for some audiences, and it lacks the wealth of famous soliloquies of a Hamlet or quotable, instantly recognizable lines of a Macbeth. What’s more, the subject matter may be too personally relatable. While few of us have felt Lear’s filial rejection and madness, many have experienced unfounded jealousy toward a loved one and/or betrayal by a trusted friend, as does Othello. Watching the Moor self-destruct, at least part of our discomfort is borne of personal familiarity. No one questions for a second the meaning of Iago’s evocation of “the green-eyed monster” (a term coined in this play, in fact).

So, a tip of the hat must be made to the small, actor-driven company, The Seeing Place Theater, for even daring to present Othello in the first place. It’s the story of a successful, happy General (Ian Moses Eaton) who is betrayed by his best friend, Iago (Brandon Walker), and tricked into believing his loyal and loving wife Desdemona (Erin Cronican) has cuckolded him. So fierce is his unsubstantiated jealousy and rage that he murders her and ultimately himself.

Brandon Walker, Esther Chen, Logan Keeler

Brandon Walker, Esther Chen, Logan Keeler

It’s hard to walk away from Othello feeling upbeat, so much does it tap into our primal emotions, but it is always interesting to see how certain characters are portrayed. In this contemporary production—so modern that soldiers and aides are constantly (nay, excessively) checking “messages” on their phones (perhaps a good ruse to help recover from dropped lines, though that didn’t seem to be an issue here)— there were some interesting quirks. For example, Iago appears to have a very severe problem with alcohol (is this meant to explain or excuse his serious character flaws?). There’s hardly a scene in which he’s not drinking, even beyond the imbibing scenes written into the text, and he always has a flask sticking out of his pocket and a bottle in his rucksack. Additionally, although Shakespeare scholars have long argued that there is textual evidence that Othello is a Moor who has converted to Christianity and is not a Muslim (he is fighting for the Venetians against the Muslim Turks), this Othello lays out a prayer rug and kneels before his bed just prior to murdering Desdemona. In light of current geopolitical turmoil this is, to say the least, an interesting choice.

But the most important aspect of this production is the earnest and enthusiastic cast. The production offers an excellent opportunity for these actors to take on these complex, dialog-heavy roles. Furthermore, it’s especially satisfying seeing older actors in the play, and in roles suited to their age, particularly John D’Arcangelo, a former steelworker with a Brooklyn affect who plays Brabantio, the senator and Desdemona’s father, who teems with rage when he finds out she has run off and married the Moor: “For your sake, jewel,/ I am glad at soul I have no other child,” he seethes at her, like a vitriolic Godfather.

Director Erin Cronican has put together a strong production, with some nice touches. However, a couple of missteps, such as having Iago’s character to sing almost an entire scene, derail the flow of the play. Most of the scene was meant to be spoken and words end up being lost not just in song, but also because the actor’s flat, off-key singing (which an egotistical Iago might not acknowledge) was unnerving, at best.

The Seeing Place Theater recently moved from Hell’s Kitchen to their new space in Kip’s Bay where they are looking to set up permanent residence. To that end, they’ve set up a Kickstarter campaign which can be linked to their company website. As a small community company that gives actors a chance to play great roles (Shakespeare and otherwise) that might otherwise be difficult to land, we at Theater Pizzazz are always in favor of encouraging support.

Othello. Through March 15 at The Clarion Theatre (produced by Seeing Place Theater), 309 East 26th St (at 2nd Ave.) www.seeingplacetheater.com

Photos:Justin Hoch – JHoch Photography

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