Saturday, June 14, 2008
Theater review: Shakespeare Dallas’ Othello at Samuell Grand Amphitheater (June 13)
Moor, moor, moor. (How did I like it? How did I like it?)
DALLAS First, let me reveal my biases: I'm a longtime patron and fan of Shakespeare Dallas. Not much way to beat a picnic in the park while enjoying Shakespeare. And, partly because of my memories of my high school English class and the friends who sat near me, Othello has long been my favorite Shakespeare play. (It added the terms "expostulate" and "beast with two backs" to my vocabulary.)
The key to the superlative is the strong performances, particularly David Goodwin as Iago; Vince McGill in the title role; Danielle Pickard as Desdemona; and Christina Vela as Emilia.
Goodwin's Iago is the first unique slant I've seen on this complex character in some years. The temptation with Iago is to gnaw on the scenery or to play him as sniveling. Instead, we meet an Iago who comes across as more plainspoken, even geeky in a military way. He reminded me of Mackenzie Crook's Gareth in the British Office, presuming that his battlefield was grander than a paper firm.
McGill's Othello was powerful and earnest, showing quite compatible moments of tenderness and rage. He was, on occasion, guilty of a bit of actiiing(!), at least vocally. Given the melodrama of the script, that's not entirely unforgivable, but was occasionally distracting.
Pickard brings a musical comedic sensibility to Desdemona. Early on that seems out of place -- my wife kept referencing Madeline Kahn -- but it allows her to do Shakespeare without sounding like she's "doing Shakespeare," which is a rare talent in my experience. And her pre-death performance of "Willow" (we do know the plot, don't we?) wouldn't sound out of place in a Broadway musical.
Emilia is a part that can often be played too earnestly or too hammy, but Vela's portrayal strikes a perfect balance. Through the early acts, I had to continually remind myself of the plot so as not to lose myself debating whether she was complicit with or fooled by her "honest" husband.
This production is designed and costumed as though it is early twentieth-century. I'm typically not a fan of anachronistic setting in Shakespeare, but it worked fine in this case. The set is deceptively simple, but trap doors, risers, revolving features and creative lighting keep things fresh. The costuming is well thought out, evoking not only the period, but uniformly delineating individual scenes and characters. The costumes did a good job of telegraphing characterization, whether through Othello's tux; Roderigo's ineffectualness; or the Duke's regal air.
(One of the mixed blessings of Shakepeare in the park is serendipitous ambient sound. I've heard neighborhood gunshots at appropriate moments in prior shows. Tonight, a siren effect in an early scene was echoed by a passing police cruiser.)
If I've had a complaint about some prior SD productions, it's been of really strong leads and weaker supporting performances. That's not an issue here, as the play is edited to highlight the leads, without much left over for the rest of the cast. The editing leaves the show feeling a bit soliloquy-heavy, but maintains uniformly top-notch performances. The supporting cast does a fine job in limited roles, and does a particularly Monty Pythonesque job of cheering in an early drinking scene. Eric Devlin's Brabantio and Lucinda Rogers' Bianca are standouts.
Minor nits for me were the fight staging, which was so broad as to seem inappropriately comedic in spots; and the pre-recorded incidental music during certain scenes, which reinforced the period, but was distracting from the performances.
Those are minor quibbles, however, when you've got such compelling performances of a favorite play, seasoned with cold chicken and wine. It's an evening that even Texas heat and ants can't dampen.