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William C. Altreuter
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Saturday, August 11, 2007

We went to "Othello" at Shakespeare in Delaware Park the other night, and I've been mulling it over. In general this is one of my favorite things to do on a summer night, even though the ground is always hard, and the air is full of humidity and insects. Shakespeare is just that good, and if the performances tend to the over-broad, well, sometimes that's because an actor needs to go that way just to make the sublime language manageable. "Othello" isn't a play that gets done all that often, it seems to me-- at least here in the States the racial thing adds layers of meaning that were certainly not what were intended originally. Although the same is also true in "The Merchant of Venice" it may be that we are better equipped to take the "quality of mercy" speech, and the "hath not a Jew eyes" speech at face value than we can anything the unfortunate Moor says or does. Poor Othello never quite manages to get past one stereotype or another-- he is a noble heathen, and a dupe; a brave general and a jealous lover given to violence. It is easy to see why Desdemona falls in love with him, but because we see from the beginning that his strength is is weakness we can sympathize, but never completely identify. Jolie Garrett, one of the two Equity members of the cast, does some nice work here, in a part he's probably wanted to take a crack at for some time now.

Iago is a different story. It is easy to relate to Iago. The world has been unfair to him, Othello has been unfair to him. Neither the world nor his general have appreciated his intelligence. Who hasn't felt that way? Tim Newell, a regular in this company, comes up big in this production-- I'll think of him as Iago henceforth, the way I think of Paul Todaro as Tybalt. I was also pleasantly surprised by Rebecca Elkin's Desdemona-- she is the daughter of Saul Elkin, the founder and artistic director of the program, and the director of this production, and she has been appearing on the Delaware Park stage pretty regularly for a while now. Up until now she has been solid enough so that you could say that nepotism couldn't have been all of why she was casted, but in this she was so good that I had no problem believing she could have given the best audition. She was convincing in her adoration, and in her consternation. Convincing isn't easy in a part like that-- or in Shakespeare generally, if it comes to that.

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