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Monday, October 11, 2010

Outstanding “Othello” at CRT

STORRS — Stunning betrayal combined with singular naiveté are the hallmarks of Shakespeare’s tragedy, “Othello,” a Connecticut Repertory Theatre production at the University of Connecticut, playing at the Nafe Katter Theatre through Sunday.
The story is one of Shakespeare’s tightest, most focused and psychologically-intense plays, taking place in only a few days — adding to the sense of urgency in the haste and rash judgements of Othello the Moor who is more comfortable as a fighter than a lover.
Othello, played on alternate nights by graduate students Brooks Brantly and Philip AJ Smithey, is a well-respected and beloved Italian general who elopes with Desdemona, a headstrong aristocratic gal who falls in love with Othello’s battle tales and rough life story.
She says she wishes she could be him, and so they marry in haste, while her father, Brabantio, feels betrayed, but begrudgingly accepts what he cannot change.
Often at CRT they will have a few professional actors working with the graduate and undergraduate students, but this go around, under the capable direction of Dale AJ Rose, they have only one equity actor, Bill Kux, doing a fine turn as Desdemona’s father.
I thought it was a strange directorial choice, however, to have the first view of Brabantio from his bedchamber with a young harlot in attendance. At first glance she seemed to be his daughter, but then we learn his daughter is wed. Creepy, but probably the intent.
The night I saw the production, Brantly was “Othello.” I was initially disappointed because slender Brantly is far too youthful to play an experienced general, looking more like a junior lieutenant. He also didn’t have the commanding presence of an older general, turning his back to the audience frequently and was difficult to understand at first.
As the play progressed, however, I overcame my disappointment as Brantly’s Othello sucked me into his complex psychological machinations.
This play’s Iago, the unequivocal villian, is also a shared role on alternate nights, between Kevin Coubal, who I saw, and Phil Korth.
Coubal’s “honest Iago” was fascinating and fantastic, consumed by a furious, passionate, hatred for Othello that drives him to all-out villainy, joyously taking down the general, Desdemona, the foppish Roderigo, the handsome Lt. Cassio, and others in his path without a moment’s hesitation or an ounce of remorse.
Ryan Guess plays Roderigo with simpering silliness, while Brian Patrick Williams plays the unsuspecting Cassio with complexity.
I particularly admired how all the actors delivered the challenging Shakespearean prose in a plain and organic manner.
Alexandra Perlwitz as Desdemona particularly shined in her realistic delivery and was all the more believable for it.
The sword-fight scenes were unparalleled — one advantage of having many youths with good knees able to tumble about with aplomb, with fight choreography by Greg Webster.
If only the actors had more rigorously practiced putting their sabers back into their holders — it would have looked more soldier-like and natural, instead it was distracting as they struggled to find their way.
There was some strobe light action during a storm sequence with too much lightning for my taste, making it difficult to hear what the actors were saying, with lighting by Mark Novick.
The smaller roles were standouts too, with Andrea Pane speaking with an excellent accent as the Cypriot Commander Montano.
Also strong was Christina Greer as Emilia, the handmaiden to Desdemona and Iago’s unsuspecting wife.
The set of a castle with two staircases was elegant and solid, if unchanging, by Jennifer Corcoran.
The period costumes by Natalie Abreu were excellent for the most part, except for Desdemona whose gowns were either too low cut or ill-fitting and unflattering for her pale complexion and shorter stature.
It’s one thing to read Shakespeare, but to see it done well live, as it is in CRT’s terrific production, brings this play to life, as during the scene where Othello, this “rash and most unfortunate man,” strangles his wife.
The choking scene was really gruesome, horrid, and grotesque, especially when he rationalizes his actions before the deed is done, saying with calm justification, “she must die or she will betray others. Put out the light and then put out the light.”
I highly recommend this outstanding production of one of Shakespeare’s most modern and compelling plays.


3½ Stars
Location: Nafe Katter Theatre, 802 Bolton Rd., Storrs.
Production: By William Shakespeare. Directed by Dale AJ Rose. Scenic design by Jennifer Corcoran. Costume design by Natalie Abreu. Lighting design by Mark Novick. Sound design by Erin McKeon. Dramaturg Dassia Posner. Fight choreographer Greg Webster. Technical direction by Stefan Koniarz. Production stage manager Mary P. Costello.
Running time: 3 hours including one 15-minute intermission.
Show Times: Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. through Sunday.
Tickets: $11 to $29. Call 860-486-4266 or visit their website at
Brooks Brantly and Philip AJ Smithey … Othello
Kevin Coubal and Phil Korth … Iago
Alexandra Perlwitz … Desdemona
Brian Patrick Williams … Cassio
Gretchen Goode … Emilia
Bill Kux … Brabantio, father to Desdemona
Ryan Guess … Roderigo
Robert Thompson Jr. … Duke of Venice
Andrea Pane … Montano
Christina Greer … Bianca
Tom Foran … Lodovico
Seth Koproski … Gratiano

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