By William Shakespeare
Directed by Russ Camarda
Genesis Repertory Ensemble
Jan Hus Theatre
Equity showcase (closed)
Review by Sheila Mart

Othello is a complex and familiar story of human emotions gone awry. Bigotry, obsessive jealousy, and manipulative evil are human traits not confined to any one era, especially when politics are involved. These considerations obviously influenced director Russ Camarda to set the piece in a non-specific period of history.

When Othello (Dennis Reid), a noble Moor of Venice, succeeds Montano (Tim Browning) as governor of Cyprus, the fireworks begin. Montano has lost his political power, and a fellow senator, Brabantio (Gene Sullivan), has acquired a less-than-desirable son-in-law when his daughter Desdemona (Melanie Murray) marries Othello, who is black. (Have race relations really improved over the last four hundred years?) Iago (James Oligney), a self-proclaimed friend of Othello, lusts after Desdemona, although he is also married. His wife, Emilia (Nina Silver), is Desdemona's confidante. Othello's lieutenant Cassio (Paul J. Bowen) is truly loyal to Othello. Yet the scheming Iago, in his unconscionable quest, uses his wife to steal a family-heirloom handkerchief from Desdemona, given to her by Othello. Emilia arranges for it to be "left" in Cassio's chamber, thus planting in Othello's mind that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair, which is untrue. Cassio is involved with his mistress Bianca (Amanda Jones), considered the town whore, and would not think of hurting Othello.

Iago sows the seeds of jealousy in Othello's mind so thoroughly that Othello's obsessive love for his wife turns to uncontrolled jealousy. He mistakenly trusts Iago, believing everything he is told. Othello is so jealous and disillusioned that he vows to kill his wife. But the slaughter doesn't end there. Iago kills his wife when she is about to reveal the truth about Desdemona's non-involvement with Cassio. When Cassio is about to tell all, the demonic Iago, unable to cover his tissue of lies, kills Cassio - his friend Roderigo will not do the deed for him. Justice is served on Iago when Othello grievously wounds him, before killing himself in such a manner as to fall over his wife's body.

Setting the play in a non-specific period worked effectively, except for the costuming (uncredited), which was inconsistent and distracting. To have two of the women (including Emilia) dressed in pantsuits did not work; their characters demanded skirts.

The performances were mostly commendable in character interpretation, particularly Dennis Reid (Othello), James Oligney (Iago), Melanie Murray (Desdemona), Paul J. Bowen (Cassio), Tim Browning (Montano), Gene Sullivan (Brabantio) and Roland Johnson (Duke of Venice). Nina Silver's Emilia, although stylish, belonged in a modern sitcom. As Roderigo, Lodovico, Gratiano, Bianca, First Senator, and Officer to Montano, Jesse Froncek, Kristen Napiorkowski, Hugh Scully, Amanda Jones, Mia Mendicino, and Sid Hammond, respectively, were effective, but they all needed voice lessons in projection and how to use the rhythm of the verse. It is a required technique, like ballet, that is not acquired overnight. This company is worth supporting in its future endeavors.

Adam Bair's lighting was delightfully pertinent. The sparcity of the set and technical direction (of Sky Walters and Sid Hammond) worked well, although the fight choreography needed polish.

Box Score:

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

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Copyright 2000 Sheila Mart