April 11, 2003
For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.
Othello is one of Shakespeare’s most famous, and most unhappy plays. Its tightly structured plot traces the catastrophic unraveling of one marriage and two lives. Rife with issues of evil, power, and love, Othello has the potential to be emotionally staggering. But first, the Actor’s Gym Theatre Company cast needs to memorize its lines.|
Unlike Shakespeare’s other important tragedies, there is a conspicuous absence of subplot in Othello. This permits Iago, one of the most egregious villains in all of literature, to focus single-mindedly on destroying Othello, and his new young bride, Desdemona. In response to not being appointed an officer by Othello, Iago plots to betray the Moor as casually as if he were playing a board game. Though Iago is convincing in his connivery, Othello is also exposed as a man of doubt and weakness. His military bearing crumples when he allows his imagination to be captured by jealousy, the "green-eyed monster."
Actor’s Gym Founder Tony Wright put some thought into how to make Othello accessible to a 21st century audience. Othello and his soldiers wear modern day khaki military uniforms. Their maroon berets are reminiscent of those seen in photographs of Saddam Hussein. They brandish big metal swords that bring the threat of war close to the audience in the intimate SouthEnd Performing Arts Center. The play even has sex appeal, provided by the beautiful Casey Gogolin as Desdemona.
Wright cast himself in the role of Iago, and directs the play as well. His acting is quite good, but his directing suffers for it. The antagonism between the three main characters is reflected in their physical contrasts. Tall, lean and pale, with quick, snakelike movements, Wright darts around the shorter, more portly Othello, played by John Price. In contrast to Othello’s dark skin, Desdemona is a golden apparition, from her long blonde ringlets to her fashionable cream-colored, wedge-heeled shoes.
Price has a rich and emotive voice that suits Othello. Hopefully his halting delivery will become more fluent with ensuing performances. Gogolin’s Desdemona is understated and calm. She is barely ruffled by her father’s accusations of betrayal, a fact that later counts against her. Her innocent sincerity makes her both vulnerable and bewitching. We understand why Othello, when fed misinformation by the treacherous Imago, might become suspicious of Desdemona, whom he barely knew before marrying.
This is a no-frills production, and therefore the actor’s difficulties with dialogue are particularly distracting. The play is a study of humanity’s worst traits. Diabolical as Iago might be, it is depressing to consider how easily his victims are misled to betray one another. They are eager to believe negative gossip, and reluctant to give the benefit of the doubt.
Such is the curse of true evil. When it is committed as amusement, it is almost impossible to understand or to sidestep. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Lynn Trenning, April 11, 2003