Othello: Theatre For a New Audience – Review

19 Aug

There are experiences in the theatre that are as close to perfection as possible while still being real.  Othello, by The Theatre For A New Audience is one such production.  This Othello, directed by Arin Arbus, has returned to The Duke on 42nd Street, for a limited engagement, after a sold-out run.  The Duke is a 200 seat thrust stage (seats on three sides) theatre.  It is an intimate and fully exposing space.  There is no room for error whatsoever.  The actors cannot grandstand or break concentration without very easily being detected.  There is nowhere to hide.  For two hours and forty five minutes, these actors strut and fret with *very* minimal set.  This paradigm could very easily result in disaster.  Or in the case of this production of Othello it could be, and is, tremendous.  Directed at a breakneck speed, using every inch of space to create visual interest and dramatic effect, it is captivating.  The cast, with only one slight exception is monumental.  Othello (John Douglas Thompson) is a beautiful commanding physical presence with the voice of G-d.  The timbre, passion and inflection of his voice are quite unusual in their excellence.  I cannot think of any modern actor (in this country) with such a command of their vocal instrument.  Mr. Thompson’s physical presence is artistic, witnessed by his seeming loss of height as the play unfolds.  Iago (Ned Eisenberg) has embodied his character.  The subtle nuances and humor that he evokes are that of an actor who fully understands his role.  He is an absolute (dastardly) pleasure to watch.  Desdemona (Juliet Rylance) is lovely and utterly convincing in her role as well.
Of particular note is the drunken celebration after the victory on Cyprus.  The music and dance are so well choreographed that  I felt as if I had entered a Taverna.  The only distracting player emerges in this scene.  Bianca (Elizabeth Meadows Rouse) lacks the confidence to play in such an intimate theatre.  She is a relatively accomplished actress but very ill at ease when she is not speaking.  While this is a bit of unfortunate casting, it did work to reinforce how stellar the rest of the casting really is.  Without a flaw, it is difficult to really appreciate near perfection.  This production of Othello is the nearest thing to perfection we may ever see. With little fanfare, no bold face names or gimmick casting, and a deep reverence for the text, this Othello is a beacon of hope for the theatre purist.  Ms. Arbus direction is intelligent and respectful and she is someone to watch. This production is only up until April 24th.  If possible see it and immerse yourself in the pool of pleasure that is excellent theatre.

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Posted by on August 19, 2011 in Uncategorized


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