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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
While Othello has been previously presented by The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey (the last time in 2003,) this production under the direction of the STNJ’s Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte achieves a level of dramatic intensity and of character development that makes it one of the best I’ve ever seen.
Othello is played by a terrific Lindsay Smiling, who is making his second appearance with STNJ (he played Polixenes in The Winter’s Tale in 2008.) Striding from the start, his countenance confirms the Moor’s essential stature. Most importantly, he projects clues to the flawed and conflicted man who may be harboring doubts about his marriage to Desdemona. Smiling is not only tall and good-looking but also has the technical proficiency to makes his words resound with authority. It isn’t often that we get to see this blind-sided Moor, a victim of political intrigue as well as epileptic fits, so visibly inflamed by his passion even as he is virtually incapacitated by his political naiveté and personal insecurities.
What is commendable about our Desdemona, as splendidly acted by Victoria Mack, is that there is evidence in her demeanor that this true and loving wife to the Moor is a rather a self-assured young woman, quite able to hold her own under normal circumstances - - - of which there are unfortunately relatively few.
Mack makes Desdemona interesting by not being either demure or delicate but rather spunky by nature. An increasing sense of desperation is visible, however, as she finds herself unable to either comprehend or to defend herself against her husband’s irrational behavior. Her screams, brought about by the barrage of outrages hurled at her, are chilling and heart-breaking. It isn’t that we haven’t seen Mack’s fury unleashed before given her tempestuous performance as Kate in The Taming of the Shrew just last year, but as Desdemona, her screams are not simply of fear but the result of a broken heart.
What a treat to see a whole new range of malevolent colors attached to Iago’s treachery, as applied by Robert Cuccioli. The actor, who has distinguished himself over nine seasons at STNJ in many of the most prominent roles in classi.cal dramatic literature, is at his malevolent best as the loathsome Iago. He literally oozes with pernicious evil, smirking subtly to us, and with an air of self-satisfaction that attends to his well-calculated deceptions.
Also quite exceptional is the impact made by Jacqueline Antaramian as Iago’s loyal but misguided wife Emilia who is unwittingly made to betray her mistress Desdemona. Susan Maris is also outstanding as the courtesan Bianca, Cassio’s mistress. There is plenty to relish as well in the performances of Matt Bradford Sullivan as the foolish and brainless Roderigo and Jon Baker as the duped, wine-women-and-song loving Cassio.
It is evident that Monte is at the helm of a carefully conceived but also traditional production that carries us along by the sheer force of the portrayals. I was rather pleased to hear the audience responding to the play with gasps of shock and surprise to what we may presume to be a familiar play, one literally filled to the brim with domestic upheaval, political intrigue and splintered passion. There was nothing splintered about designer Bill Clarke’s unit setting that efficiently and atmospherically (with splendid lighting by Steven Rosen) adjusted to the various locations within Venice and Cyprus. Also quite impressive was the predominantly gold and muted gold color pallet used by costume designer Paul H. Canada.
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