The Bard is Back

By Laura Melvin

The fellow, Othello,

Was neither yellow nor mellow.

His bellow, a cello,

Shook Desdemona like jell-o,

As he screamed, oh Othello,

She belonged in a bordello.

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a group of actors set out in sweltering, record-setting temperatures in full renaissance garb, enduring swarms of mosquitoes, to tell a story of race, jealousy, and murder.  Bard on the Beach’s production of Othello, directed by Dean Paul Gibson, was pretty cool in a socially significant and violent way.

Othello for dummies:

The head guy, Othello, promotes buddy, Cassio, over this other dude, Iago.  Iago is pissed and plots to get the promotion himself.  There’s some lying, some manipulating, some poor chap named Rodrigo who gets royally tooled.  Iago tells head guy that his wife, Desdemona, is whoring it up with Cassio.  Head guy snaps, kills his wife, then learns that Iago made up the whole thing to take revenge on Cassio.  Big death scene, everyone dies.  The end.

For those of us who are not regular Shakespeare goers, it takes a little while to get into the flow of the language.  Most of the first act could’ve been in Greek for all I knew.  It wasn’t until the end of the first that I started to get the rhythm down.  Shakespearean language isn’t something you want to pay uber-close attention to in order to understand.  Do that, and you’re gonna get a serious migraine.  It’s better just to sit back, relax, and let your mind sink into it on its own. Do that, and you’ll be unconsciously translating Shakespeare’s words into 21st century speak in no time.

As for the acting, I’m kind of on the fence.  I can split the four main characters into two groups: Girls versus Guys, and Desdemona and Emilia as a pair definitely outshone Othello and Iago.

Emilia, played by Jennifer Lines, portrayed her role with such ease and passion you would’ve thought she was an actor plucked straight out of the 16th century.  If she was, however, she probably would’ve been a guy….

Michael Blake, Othello, did the Shakespearean tradition proud.  His deep, rolling voice was befitting of Shakespearean speech and his passionate, wonderfully overwrought acting puts most soap operas to shame.

Naomi Wright was true to her character, Desdemona: simple, honest, and head over heels for Othello.  Though she was less at ease with the language than Jennifer Lines, Wright wholeheartedly conveyed the love and anguish Desdemona endures for Othello.

Iago, played by Bob Frazer, is probably the most difficult character to portray.  He’s two different people, but must maintain a certain essence within both personalities so that the audience recognizes him.  On one hand, he is a delightfully devilish, greedy, and manipulative bastard who orchestrates an evil scheme to overthrow Othello.  On the other, he must play the dutiful friend and servant of Othello, all the while keeping an undercurrent of deceit.  When speaking to Othello and others, his words are flat and hollow as they should be when he’s lying through his teeth; however, his monologues lack the malicious honesty and greed—that slime to the voice—that defines the character Iago.

First timers (like me) and Shakespearean devotees alike can appreciate Bard on the Beach’s performance of Othello. The second act is well worth sitting through a slow-moving first, and the beauty of the Vanier Park venue makes this a truly unique Shakespearian production.

Bard on the Beach opened up its 20th show season with Othello, which runs until September 25, 2009

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