by William Shakespeare
Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary
Actors’ Shakespeare Project
Modern Theater at Suffolk Universkty
Theater District, Boston
September 23 – October 25, 2015
With Johnnie McQuarley (Othello), John Kuntz (Iago), Josephine Elwood (Desdemona), Ross MacDonald (Cassio), Jennie Israel (Emilia, Brabantia), Elle Borders (Bianca, Montana), Bari Robinson (Roderigo, Lodovico) Thonas Grenon (Gratiano, Clown, Duke)
Iago is enraged at Othello on two fronts: Othello has married Desdemona, who Iago has a thing for despite his own marriage to Emilia, and Othello has promoted Cassio as lieutenant instead of promoting Iago who feels he had deserved it far more.
Not one to swallow his pride, Iago plots vengeance and seeks to overturn both Othello and Cassio. By concocting a plot by which Othello will come to suspect Desdemona of betraying him with Cassio, Iago gets under Othello’s skin.
By the time Iago gets through with him, Othello is ripe for vengeance upon Desdemona and Cassio, and it’s only in the end, when Iago’s ploy of a misplaced handkerchief gets exposed by his own wife, that the illusion unravels. It’s not soon enough, however, to avoid a lot of deaths.
This top-tier production has such a basic clarity to it that the oft knotted tale comes through clear as a bell.
It’s amazing how, with superb direction, Shakespearean actors gain the capactiy to convey the sense of their words vividly and clearly. With minimal sets, this production exhibits the truly distinctive qualities that the ASP has cultivated since its very earliest days.
Conceived and created by Benjamin Evett, who was its artistic director for many years and has now moved on, the company has always prided itself on great acting and great direction, with just enough staging to make it all possible. It’s great to see the ASP under Allyn Burrows’ artistic direction continuing to cultivate that esthetic.
Great acting extends throughout this production.
As Iago, the frequently comic actor, John Kuntz, is excellently insidious and manipulative. It makes great sense to have a comic actor of Kuntz’ range play the part, since Iago is great at making a mockery of morality. With such faux sincerity, Kuntz’ Iago weaves a psychological trap that encases Othello, and it is largely through this ingenious conveyance of Iago as great trickster that Kuntz pulls it off. The character is weird, warped and devilishly ingenious.
Some years ago, Johnnie McQuarley stepped into a role, at the last minute, in David Mamet’s Race at the New Repertory Theatre and stunned the crowd with his capacity to handle the intensely difficult give and take of the dialogue. He’s an extremely talented actor and, in this great role, gets the opportunity to really strut his stuff. He’s powerful, he’s visceral, his Othello is passionately intense and pathetically pitiful, and, in the great tragic resolution at the end, he is magnificently and overwhelmingly contrite. It’s a great embodiment of the poor, unfortunate Moor.
As Desdemona, Josephine Elwood has a powerful, down-to-earth dignity that carries through the storms of Othello’s rage while nobly maintaining her defense of Cassio, and maintains a wonderful balance of passion, honor, confusion, disappointment and disdain as the workings of the demonic puppeteer Iago have their horrific effects on her unfortunately besieged husband.
The other roles are covered with great aplomb.
Jennie Israel, in a variety of roles, exhibits her usual professionalism, and is here particularly moving in her final accounts as Emilia, Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s lady in waiting.
Elle Borders, as Bianca, Cassio’s true love interest, is deftly engaging, alluring and suspicious.
Ross MacDonald’s Cassio is wonderfully energetic and crazily buoyant at just the right points.
This is a great production that is at once singularly simple and clear in its rendition and wonderfully evocative of the forceful core of this great drama.