Othello at Baltimore Shakespeare Factory

TheatreBloom rating:

To thine own self be true. Wrong Shakespeare; right concept. Baltimore Shakespeare Factory is being true to their MO and giving Charm City yet another Shakespearean production in Original Pronunciation, or “OP.” Othello is the latest in BSF’s OP series and handles just as well as those before it. For those vastly versed in Shakespeare think of OP as taking it to the next level or unlocking that bonus round of never-before heard jargon that truly acquaints you with the authenticity of The Bard. Directed by Tom Delise, the production carries true to BSF form, complete with ‘natural lighting’, ordinary period costuming, and live music before the show as well as during the intermission.

Musical Director Jim Stimson has earned his nod of praise for the varying acoustic songs featured both before the show (listed as ‘pre-show entertainment’) and during the intermission. Taking a range of songs from the modern era (read: sometime from the 70’s on forward) and orchestrating them so that they fit certain dramatic themes and thematic elements of Othello, and then directing their performance among the cast, who play live instruments and sing without microphones, the show becomes more enjoyable. This also authenticates the way a true Shakespearean show would have happened, with the players performing music of the time in this way.

Fight Choreographer Tegan Williams is showing off her fine fighting capabilities with all of the rough and tumble sword play featured in the production. While a great deal of it is put upon as a villainous rouse, Williams’ work showcases finesse as well as actor safety, creating a believable look and overall thrilling feel without actually endangering the performers.

Following suit with the way Shakespearean productions were performed, this production of Othello makes wide use of duplicate and triplicate casting, with half the cast taking on multiple roles. Micaela Mannix’ portrayal of the clown, though brief, is witty and ripe for the laughing at, whilst her approach to the tawdry and street savvy Bianca is quite different and appealing for other reasons. Grayson Owen creates a series of unique personalities across his four characters, the most notable being the vocally whiny albeit morally obliging Lodovico. Jim Hart’s most notable role, aside from leading the music when the actors take to song, is that of the angry father Brabantio. Hart imbues the character with fury born of love for his only daughter, the true hallmark of just about every Shakespearean father character. While Jess Behar does briefly play other characters, the bulk of her stage time is spent embodying Aemelia, wife of Iago and lady servant to Desdemona. Her exasperating expressions are among the finest in the production, especially in the final scenes, and her handle on the Original Pronunciation factor (as coached by Ann Turiano) is quite solid.

Terry O’Hara’s Rodrigo is superb. There is a finely honed nuance to his character’s naïveté, and the way he transforms from mouse to man after discovering the way his character has been deceived is quite remarkable. Earnest to a fault, O’Hara’s portrayal is most memorable even if the character of Rodrigo ought not to be. His sword play is clean, as clean as his bite once he goes into an attack upon Iago, and the way he uses vividly animated facial expressions to convey a deeper track of internal thought and feeling is quite intriguing.

The good and noble Cassio (David Martin) is too played the fool herein this wicked dramatic tragedy. Martin’s approach to Cassio is sensible, and what’s most impressive is the way he staggers about blind with drink once the carousing gets underway. Stumbling into the brawling and battling that arises from such tomfoolery, Martin’s Cassio is fit to be tied, never once losing his spirit even when Othello casts him out. He is as innocent as many and as deceived as most in this production, playing that ignorance well in hand through every progressive moment he is on stage.

Sweet, honest, and present Desdemona finds herself at the center of a vexing plot, to which Kathryn Zoerb plays no strange. When Zoerb’s Desdemona addresses the court and her father in defense of her marriage to Othello, it is strikingly sensible, which is very much unlike most portrayals of Shakespearean women who in such moments of crisis as this result to hysterics and irrational behavior. Zoerb brings balance to Desdemona; she is sweet and generous in her affections toward Othello but not a simple waif of a woman to be trifled with. There is a perpetual calm present in her portrayal, one that allows the emotional turmoil to flow naturally though her, giving the audience a more engaging experience with Desdemona.

As the titular character of the show, Troy Jennings is quite solid. Reverent and sound, he uses sage beyond his years to diffuse situations of tension and duress. This is a remarkable trait to witness because it provides astonishing contrast to the rash and explosive Othello that Jennings presents once seeds of doubt, sewn by a pernicious gardener, are planted in his mind. Showcasing such jubilant adoration toward Desdemona creates a shocking juxtaposition when he rebukes her in the back half of the play. Watching Jennings fly off of the ledge once he ‘overhears’ Cassio’s betrayal is harrowing; the emotional display which he creates is disturbing and haunting to say the least.

Cunning Iago. Calculating Iago. Festering canker Iago…all of these words cannot hope to hold a servant’s candle to what Ian Blackwell Rogers does with Iago’s treacherous knavery in this production. What’s worse is that Rogers does it so exceptionally well that it’s almost hypnotically enchanting to the point of wanting to support his villainy. Slippery like a serpent that slithers along the underbellies of hell, Rogers creates an antagonist so ruthless and so cavalier that he can scarce be believed. His flawless execution of OP coupled with his natural Shakespearean finesse makes for a diabolically deadly combination upon the stage.   

So be as your fancies take you— and they shall take you to Baltimore Shakespeare Factory to see the Original Pronunciation production of Othello. Do so before the 29 of April, or you’ll be found without a show to see. 

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

Othello plays through April 29, 2018 at The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at the St. Mary’s Community Center— 3900 Roland Avenue in Hampden borough of Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door or in advance online.

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