The green-eyed beast with two backs


By William Shakespeare
Adapted and Directed by Andrew Cucci
Expanded Arts
113 Ludlow St (358-5096)
Non-union production (closes Nov. 21)
Review by David Mackler

Desdemona, Othello says, came to love him "for the dangers I had passed," and he in his turn "loved her that she did pity them."
Director Andrew Cucci added another dimension - they are so hot for each other that the charge is palpable. They're not shy about it either, and Norman Douglas Cooley and Angela Groeschen, as well as being attractive actors, were the basis for much of the success of this production.

But while there were tremendous highs, the third part of the triangle central to Othello was regretfully not near their level. The words were there for Matthew Hanley's Iago, but it became necessary to accept his part in the plot without believing it. While Othello and Desdemona couldn't keep their hands off each other, Iago seemed petty and petulant, and not particularly powerful. If his motivation was that he was the only one not getting any action, the result was wonderment at how the spunky, fiery Emilia (Heather Murdock) ended up with a lox like this guy. At several points, he took pills and rubbed his stomach - was an ulcer the cause of his dyspepsia? (He obviously wasn't taking Prozac.) Because the motivation was hazy, one was left wondering why anyone listened to him.

Apart from that (and an immoderate length), the direction was fundamentally strong, and the play built to a remarkably potent and powerful strangulation scene. It was all the more shattering for the provocative use of nudity, which combined the intimacy of the marriage bed with the violence and fury of jealousy and doubt. Smaller things were also well-done, such as when Othello was dressed for battle; the juxtaposition of Cassio (Carmine Covello, Jr.) in bed with Bianca (Catherine Ohanessian) and Othello with Desdemona; Othello's fantasy of Desdemona and Cassio in bed. Covello was a trusting and virile Cassio; Christopher Roberts was a very strong Brabantio, angry at his daughter's sexuality even as he bedded a mistress her age (Jessica Ordman); Greg Schmalbach's Roderigo was like a wounded puppy who insists on following his evil master.

Cooley, a powerfully built man, also had a powerful voice and presence. He was especially effective when Othello began to fall apart, not understanding why he could not control his doubts. And Groeschen was a revelation as Desdemona - her actions and speech were clear and direct, and every emotion showed. She was beautifully watchable.

Everyone was dressed in black or dark, drab hues, except for Desdemona, who had the spark of her colorful wardrobe (costumes by Murdock). Modern accoutrements were interpolated: headsets for battle, Cassio's damning words recorded, and handheld e-mail communication, not letters. The impossible space of Expanded Arts was well-used, effectively giving three levels of playing area (set designed by Alan Smith); lighting (by Alex Harper) and sound (Cucci) contributed to setting the mood.

This Othello was mostly about sex - everybody seemed to have just gotten out of bed, or was planning on going to bed. If only Iago was up to it.

Also with Rebecca Olympia, Michael Doyle, Eric D'Entrone, and Jessica Hardin.

Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 1

Set: 1

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 David Mackler