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Pumping Up the Volume

Othello turns into a shouting match

Only Shakespeare, in all his audacity and brilliance, could pen the scene in which mighty Othello is brought to his quivering knees by the slimmest of lies and a lady's errant hankie. It's a wonder of literature, magnificent to behold, even when it's being screeched across the stage of the Miller Outdoor Theatre by two sweaty actors who appear to have been given no more direction than to be really, really loud.

In fact, this production of Othello has been amped up to an unrelenting high-pitched, chest-thumping screed, animated by Sidney Berger's direction, which lacks both subtlety and inventiveness. Some of these Othellian moments are filled with so much melodrama -- Othello's epileptic breakdown is the most egregious example -- that they inspired lots of unintended tittering from the opening-night audience.

August 11, 17 and 19 at Miller Outdoor Theatre in Hermann Park

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At least this Othello looks pretty good. Trinidad native Michael Cherrie, as the brawny braveheart who's outwitted by the serpentine Iago (Charles Sanders), is handsome. Anne Bates as his wife, the tender Desdemona, is absolutely beautiful, and Susan Kelly's gorgeous costumes -- ribboned, flouncy sleeves; laced-up bodices; twirly, heavy skirts -- are an Elizabethan fantasy come alive. Too bad lighting designer John Gow contributes so little to the actors or their words or even Kevin Rigdon's towering set of movable bronzed doors that provide plenty of places for shadowy scenes of betrayal; Gow's flat, even lighting does nothing to develop Shakespeare's opulent images of light and dark that run so meaningfully throughout the script.

But worse still, every scene sounds the same. Rage is acted with shouting -- so is heartbreak, frustration and all of Iago's devilish plottings. The result is that the great tragedy takes on the tone of a schoolhouse lesson. You're never allowed to forget that this is Shakespeare with a capital "S." That's the true tragedy of the night.

 
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