Oct 27, 2011 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
Shakespeare meets Santana in Baldwinsville Theatre Guild’s current production of “Othello,” set in the 1960s against the backdrop of war, pacifism, civil rights and free love.
But don’t worry.
Thanks to a hard-working cast of 11, this updated version of Shakespeare’s 1603 tragedy thankfully remains true to the Bard’s skillfully structured drama as its characters are captured in an intricate web of lies.
Actor Trevor Hill enjoys playing the insidious Iago.
“[Co-director] Stephanie Long made it so much fun to be evil,” he wrote in the play’s program notes. It shows. But Hill’s Iago is as frolicsome as he is treacherous. He revels in taunts about cash and chianti as enthusiastically as he schemes to bring down his Moorish leader, Othello, the general whom Iago secretly hates.
Although bad to the bone, this Iago is more than a monster. He’s also desperately human.
The character’s humanity crystallizes in Hill’s capable hands. Having portrayed Romeo, Hamlet and McDuff in previous local productions, the actor has developed the ability to transform the playwright’s old English into lines that resonate in modern ears. “Luscious as locusts,” indeed!
As the obsessively duplicitous Iago, Hill makes evil entertaining.
Playing the title character, Maxwell Anderson well complements Hill’s bravura performance. While Iago bellows like a madman, Anderson’s Othello nearly whispers many lines.
Although subtly restrained, the elegant Anderson displays considerable stage presence whether Othello’s fawning over his beloved Desdemona or commanding his troops as they invade Cyprus.
Having already appeared at such prestigious venues as Syracuse Stage (in “The Miracle Worker”) and Philadelphia’s Merriam Theatre (in “Katrina Monologues”), the youthful Anderson is well on his way to a professional career. While Othello is a tragically flawed character and very much a second fiddle to Hill’s scheming Iago, Anderson plays the part with understated verve and vigor, finally imploding with palpable remorse in the play’s final scene.
Also turning in notable performances are Lynn Barbato as an earthy yet sensual Desdemona, Michael King as the envious Roderigo and Cole Salo as Cassio, the clueless lieutenant caught in the middle of Iago’s malicious machinations.
Rounding out the cast are Sarah Bradstreet as Bianca, John LaCasse as Desdemona’s father, Lee LeManche as a Roman senator and Rachel Torba-Grage as Iago’s wife, Emilia. Marisa Chism and Valerie Evans appear in a variety of roles, from duchess to clown.
Directors Stephanie Long and Kim Marie Jakway set their Othello in the 1960s, a gambit that may attract audiences that will revel in rock tunes by bands such as Buffalo Springfield, the Young Rascals, Cream and Santana whose “Evil Ways” could be Iago’s theme song.
While the men mostly wear U.S. Army uniforms, the women sport fringed leather vests and paisley. Bradstreet’s bawdy Bianca is bedecked in colorful mini-skirts and calf-high white vinyl boots.
Such accoutrements evoke a certain era, but it’s the acting that rivets audience attention here. A couple technical issues, however, may distract. In order to distinguish the play’s several soliloquies, the directors utilized an overhead fluorescent house light. Because the fixture cannot be dimmed on and off, its sudden illumination is jarring to say the least.
Similarly, the tiny stage knives wielded in the violent final scenes seriously test the audience’s suspension of disbelief. When one of the diminutive daggers drops to the stage, it resounds with the clink of plastic. In keeping with the 1960s theme, long, strong switch-blades would’ve made better props.
“Othello,” produced by John Christopher for BTG, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 28 and 29, at the Presbyterian Education Center, 64 Oswego St. Admission costs $15, or $12 for students; 877-4183.
Russ Tarby is a freelance writer for Eagle Newspapers with a strong connection to the arts and entertainment scene in Central New York.
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