MADISON, NJ – Venture into the convoluted world of William Shakespeare’s “Othello,” and you’ll soon find yourself immersed in intrigue, deception and villainy.
The outstanding production at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is directed with every shading and nuance by Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte.
Lindsay Smiling is the rugged, determined Othello, strong, but easily swayed by the cunning of his presumably trustworthy ensign, Iago. Smiling’s shift from loving husband to near madness allows us to see just how insidious his faithful Iago has become. Despite Othello’s demands for proof, he is already being consumed by rage.
Robert Cuccioli brings a sly wit, with a hint of malice, to the role of confidant. His apparently likeable demeanor disguises his true nature. Iago is jealous of Othello’s preference for Cassio, whom the general has appointed as lieutenant. Iago sees him as younger and fairer and a threat. As the story moves along, Iago develops a devious plot to stir Othello’s doubts and suspicions that his young wife, Desdemona, is deceiving him in a relationship with Casio. Whatever she says simply spurs Othello to greater anger.
Played by Victoria Mack, the young bride has an irrepressible good nature and love for her master. She never understands what she could have done wrong and why he thinks she has betrayed him. Mack brings tremendous spark to the role. When Desdemona sings her wistful song, it is heartbreaking. You can see her youth practically exploding, as she begs Othello to let her live one more day.
Her loyal attendant, Emilia, is Iago’s wife. Jacqueline Antarmian is a strong counter-part to Desdemona. She has deferred to her husband in the matter of the all-important handkerchief, but realizes, too late, that he is a liar and manipulator. Emilia’s final scene is emotionally wrenching.
The tension builds as these truths are unveiled in this taut, unyielding drama. You can’t help but think, if only someone came forward at the right time to interfere with Iago’s plot. It’s always fascinating to hear familiar phrases in their proper context, such as “I loved not wisely but too well.”
The cast is superb throughout. Matt Bradford Sullivan inspires laughs as Roderigo, a Venetian friend of Iago’s, who does most of his dirty work for him. Bill Christ is Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, who opposes her marriage to Othello. But even Desdemona’s relationship with her father is used with cunning by Iago, who tells her if she rejected her father, she will reject him as well. He also implies that the women of Venice are less virtuous and, therefore, she could easily be swayed by Casio.
Jon Barker is Michael Cassio, promoted over Iago, which has incensed the ensign from Florence. Susan maris is a fetching Bianca, who inadvertently becomes yet another pawn in Iago’s scheme. Patrick Toon is fine as Lodovico, a Venetian Senator and Eric Rolland casts a dignified aura as the Duke of Venice.
Bill Clarke’s scenic design consists of an almost bare stage of stone walls, a staircase and doors and archways. The few pieces of furniture are brought on and removed effectively for changes of scene. Lighting by Steven Rosen shades the dark interior to a blue background for arriving ships. Karin Graybash, for sound design, included musical moments. Costumes by Paul H. Canada, too, are flawless, reflecting the 16th century with its mix of royal and warrior attire.
“Othello” continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, located on the campus of Drew University in Madison, through Oct. 2. For tickets, call 973-408-5600 or visit ShakespeareNJ.org.