When Iago talks about "Jealousy…the green-eyed monster," he might as well be referring to himself. It’s his envy of Cassio’s promotion under the leadership of Moorish general Othello that sets a devious plot in motion that will leave many dead and others wounded. And so it goes, in St. Louis Shakespeare Festival's sparkling production of Othello, which is currently being performed in Forest Park. Be sure to arrive early to enjoy the festivities, and to stake your claim on a prime spot from where you can view this splendidly realized show.
Othello has married Desdemona, much to the ire of her father. But Othello is a brave and victorious commander and so that sin is forgiven and he is sent to fend off the Turks with his young bride. But his plans for any kind of happiness are destroyed by the schemes of Iago. This presentation is set in a different time (a hundred years ago or so), and that only enhances the production, allowing for some nice costume choices, and a hint of the miscegenation toward Othello and Desdemona’s relationship that was ripe at that time.
As always, it's the nature of the play after all, the actor playing Iago, Justin Blanchard completely dominates, deftly chewing the scenery. Billy Eugene Jones is good as Othello, and his clarity and furor allow him to do the role its proper justice, although the histrionics become a bit too strained and disengaging during the lumbering second act. Together, they're awfully good, but the play as a whole loses steam as Othello begins his downward spiral.
Rudi Otter also is fine as Rodrigo, while Joshua Thomas nearly outshines the principals with his energetic performance as Cassio. Whit Reichert, Joneal Joplin and Jerry Vogel add more local color to the show in minor roles. Heather Woods adds a strong sense of determination as the wrongfully accused, and justly tragic, Desdemona.
Bruce Longworth's direction is sharp in the first half, and he keeps the action bustling along at a good pace for Shakespeare, but the second act (which is really a combination of acts), like a lot of Shakespeare's plays, just goes on far too long before it resolves itself. Paul Dennhardt aids the show with his superbly robust fight choreography, while Lou Bird's costumes reflect a "turning of the last century" look to them.
The Shakespeare festival's entertaining take on Othello continues in the Shakespeare Glen at Forest Park until June 17, 2012 and a good script, a good cast, and solid direction are certainly a nice recipe for a successful evening of theatre.