Monday, April 21, 2014

Othello—Portland Center Stage—NW Portland

The Green-Eyed Monster

This classic tragedy by Shakespeare is directed by Chris Coleman (PCS’s Artistic Director) and plays at their space at 128 NW 11th Ave. through May 11th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-445-3700.

Revenge is a dish best served cold, as the saying goes.  And the cause of much revenge is unassuming, undiluted, unadulterated jealousy (the green-eyed monster).  In this case, Iago (Gavin Hoffman) is jealous of Cassio (Timothy Sekk), for getting a position he felt he deserved.  He is also jealous of Othello (Daver Morrison) for purportedly sleeping with his wife, Emilia (Dana Green).

And Roderigo (Leif Norby) is jealous of Othello for marrying the girl he was interested in, Desdemona (Nikki Coble).  And Bianca (Marianna McClellan) is jealous of Desdemona for the attention her man, Cassio, is paying to her.  And, in the end, Othello is jealous of his wife for purportedly sleeping with Cassio.  What a web we do weave for ourselves sometimes.

The story has Othello returning from the wars, a much-praised hero and marrying a senator’s daughter.  He has promoted the young Cassio to his second in command, over his trusted old friend, Iago, a seasoned veteran.  And, from that moment on, it all goes downhill.  Iago devises a plot, in which he consorts with Roderigo, his not-too-bright pal, to win back the affections of Desdemona, who he’s been pining over.  And, when Cassio falls out of favor with Othello, he conspires with him to regain his position, by having him plead with Othello’s wife to intercede for him.

Then he goes to Othello and drops hints of a possible illicit bond between his wife and Cassio.  But Othello, wanting physical proof of such a tryst, Iago enlists his wife, unaware of her husband’s devious dealings, to supply him with such an item.  In the end, almost none of them survive Iago’s clever contrivances and, as a result, they all pretty much make fools of themselves, fatal in many cases.

What is amazing is that Iago seems to be the smartest of the bunch and the original relationships of these characters to each other, seem shallow, to say the least.  And, for all of this to work, the pieces of the puzzle need to fall in place exactly as they do or it won’t be successful.  This is not the fault of the production but of the Bard’s plot.  But, even with these obvious contrivances, the plot is intriguing, as it flows forward.

I must say, from the outset, I found the set and the costumes, by the director, Coleman, and his designers, Scott Fyfe (set) and Susan E. Mickey (costumes) absolutely spectacular!  This is a classical production of the show (meaning that it is produced with the look of the original times).  The main set, on a revolve, is amazing, and easily and quickly transports you from one scene to another.  And the costumes are gorgeous to behold!

All the actors handle the language well and are convincing in their parts.  Morrison is a fine Othello, building his character slowly so that we see the rather easy-going fellow in the beginning and then the mighty wrath of a man betrayed.  Coble, as his wife, is lovely to look at and gives the character a trusting but naïve demeanor.  (Trivia note:  Two well-know Portland actors played this role at OSF—Gretchen Corbett in the late 60’s and Joyce Harris-Wood in the 80’s.)  Green stands out as the well-meaning, Emilia, and Norby is always good, this time as the thick-headed dupe of Iago.

But much of my praise for the acting goes to Hoffman as the “honest” Iago.  He has the look and sound of a Patrick Stewart.  His oily insinuations and smooth demeanor give the character a chilling countenance.  As he plays it, one almost has to admire his manipulations, as he leads people around by the nose.  It’s as if he saying to us, they deserve it for being so stupid and shallow.  He may be right.

The one piece of advice I would give the show, as a whole, is they need to ratchet it up a bit.  The whole tone seems a bit subdued and needed an added boost of energy at times.  But, in fairness, the mostly full-house gave it a standing ovation at the end.  I would recommend this show, especially for the set and costumes.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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