Turnabout is fair play


By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sidney Fortner
The Women's Shakespeare Company
Trilogy Theatre
341 W. 44th St. (501-1986)
Equity Showcase (closes Dec. 19)
Review by Julie Halpern

The Women's Shakespeare Company is dedicated to presenting the classics with all-female casts, giving women opportunities to play the powerful roles rarely accessible to them in commercial venues. In Shakespeare's time, all roles were played by men, so at a time when many talented women are available, why not an all-female cast? In this production the male parts were played as men, and Director Sidney Fortner and her excellent cast created such a convincing world that the gender of the performers became a non-issue.

Iago, Othello's treacherous agent, is determined to destroy him. He convinces Othello that his wife Desdemona has been unfaithful to him with Michael Cassio, one of his high-ranking officers. Planting one of Desdemona's handkerchiefs where it doesn't belong and lying through his teeth, the supremely evil Iago manages to cause the deaths of Desdemona, Othello, his own wife Emilia, his lackey Rodrigo, and himself, along with unspeakable tortures.

The production values were surprisingly good, utilizing the limitations of the Trilogy to the best possible advantage. Golden and scarlet draperies were hung across the back of the set, adding warmth and interest to the black-box theatre. The costumes were lovely - designer Alejo Vietti was obviously knowledgeable of the styles, jewel-tone colors, and fabrics immortalized by Veronese and other Venetian painters of the 16th century. Jay Ryan's light design heightened this sumptuous vision, bathing the stage in a flattering, golden glow. Leon Mosiej-Petrus's evocative incidental music enhanced the proceedings.

Fortner guided a strong, tight ensemble, but the pace lagged a bit in the beginning, and the final scene, which started out heartbreaking, deteriorated into an exhaustingly long exercise in unnecessary pauses. It was commendable to do this longish show without cuts, but pace must be maintained or it becomes interminable.

Jennifer J. Joseph was an intelligent, facile Othello but lacked the strength and monumentality the role requires. Hampered by too much superficial movement and drawn-out phrasing, Joseph (or Fortner) deprived herself of many potentially rewarding moments.

Julie Dingman's powerful, impassioned Iago was a magnetic presence, maintaining a high energy level throughout, and dominating the stage whenever she appeared. Yvonne Marchese's boyish, athletic Cassio was extremely appealing, and the sword fight choreographed by Seth Trucks with Dingman, Marchese, and Kelly Ann Sharman's Montano was absolutely top-notch, proving that women are more than equal to the physical challenges these parts demand of them.

Catherine MacNelis's Roderigo was an adept physical comedian, but too buffoonish at times. Andrea Miskow's dual roles as the Duke and Ludovico displayed warmth and dignity, as did Christiania Cobean's Brabantio and Gratiano.

Lovely Rebekah Jacobs was sympathetic as the wronged Desdemona. Valerie Clayman's kind but realistic Emilia was an ideal foil for Desdemona's innocence. Her realization of the sham her life with Iago has been was truly horrifying.

Victoria Thompson, Jessica Rodwick, and Audrey-Maeve contributed excellent work in a variety of smaller roles.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern