Othello (Review)

Cincinnati Shakespeare classic could use a bit Moor

Considering the talent and sensitivity of the people involved onstage and in the director’s chair, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s Othello is a disappointment. Comparing this production with previous work by virtually everyone, especially director Drew Fracher, it’s a severe disappointment.

Little is egregiously wrong. Nobody falls down. Nobody goes up in his or her lines. But it’s all so pedestrian.

Leading players rant and recite on the surface of the script. Zero subtext. Except for a couple of fight scenes, Fracher’s staging remains static. The set (Lex Van Blommestein) is serviceable. Costuming (Heidi Jo Schiemer) is a mess. Non-military men are OK in 2010 suits and ties, but military men are in dreary uniforms that would be as apt for Star Trek as for Renaissance Venice. And whoever approved dressing and coifing the women as camp-following hookers needs to have his or her motives examined.

You know the drill here. Beautiful, virtuous Desdemona (Kelly Mengelkoch) is the daughter of a noble Venetian house. She flaunts family expectations and marries Othello (guest artist David Ryan Smith), a highly respected black (Moorish) general.

Othello is relentlessly hated by his evil ensign Iago (Jeremy Dubin) for reasons never fully explicated. Racism? Perhaps. The promotion of Cassio (Kris Stoker) over Iago? Perhaps. Simple jealousy? Probably. Iago’s lies and machinations set up multiple confrontations, the final being when Othello accuses innocent Desdemona of infidelity, then murders her.

Only the supporting players deliver performances with any nuance, demonstrating once again the depth of ability Artistic Director Brian Isaac Phillips has packed into his resident ensemble.

As the title character, Smith has two volumes: loud and louder. Mengelkoch vamps Desdemona into a sex kitten. Dubin, among CSC’s ablest and most expressive performers, might have found ways to shed new light on the 400-year-old riddle of Iago. He does not.

OTHELLO, presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, continues through April 3. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

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