It's a Fearful Life

Stages finds the free-floating anxiety in Albee's Delicate Balance

Berger does leave some important elements underdeveloped. A certain cycle of ferocious relentlessness is missing. The characters don't really tear at each other as savagely as the text requires. Still, more important is what Berger does right. He gets his cast to flinch with apprehension, complicity, injury and revulsion at virtually every exchange; it turns this production into one of the most significant of the year. This Balance is one of only two that Albee allowed to be mounted on the eve of a major New York revival of the play. Stages is justifiably proud of the honor. And Albee can be justifiably proud of how Stages has honored him.

Why would Infernal Bridegroom Productions mount Othello when a star-studded movie version of the Shakespearean drama has just been released? Why risk any Shakespeare now, when no less than Corin and Vanessa Redgrave are currently heading up Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra in repertory at the Alley? And why produce a play in winter in the unheated, uninsulated Commerce Street Art Warehouse?

Such questions damn this poorly conceived, more poorly staged and even more poorly executed show. I had enough almost from the start, when Desdemona's father appeared in what seemed to be drag. I say "seemed" because, even though cast members occasionally brandish a lit torch (why? who knows?), the lighting is so dim that the audience can rarely discern faces. Whatever idea director Alexander Marchand had about using shadows fails, especially with a cast that demonstrates little ability in speaking Shakespearean.

Carnival music is heard when Othello recounts how he and Desdemona fell in love. Lead actors also take on minor parts. The text is butchered, not trimmed. Blocking is so clunky that the stage feels empty, even during populous scenes. Costumes are across the map and span centuries. There's no passion, no intrigue, no threat, no foreboding, no momentum, no tragedy -- there's no anything in Marchand's three-hour debacle except dreariness. Even the set is a shambles.

In J.D. Hawkins' misguided interpretation of the part, Othello evolves from hip headiness to stealthy caution to coiled outrage. Hawkins is somewhat better toward the end, when he gives the jealous Moor a pacing physicality, but it's not enough. He lacks presence and fails to command the stage. Though Vicki Weathersby attains some poignance as Desdemona when her character is prostrate and pleading, the actress is mostly awkward in her role. And as for that manipulating villain Iago, the most that can be said of Greg Dean is that he's undifferentiatingly cagey. The rest of the cast deserves no mention. For that, they should be thankful.

A Delicate Balance plays through February 4 at Stages, 3201 Allen Parkway, 527-8243.

Othello plays through February 3 at Commerce Street Art Warehouse, 2315 Commerce Street, 520-9720.

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