by DICK KEREKES
Players by the Sea opened its first play of 2009 with William Shakespeare’s Othello. The show will run through January 31 at 106 Sixth Street N. in Jacksonville Beach. Call 249-0289 for reservations.
With this production, Shakespeare has finally arrived in Jacksonville Beach!! In the 29 years I have been covering theatre I don’t recall any group at the beach doing a play by the Bard. This show has been well received and I am sure you will see more in future years.
Othello is the story of a great Moor (African) general who is legendry for his bravery and his devotion to love. Under the darkness of night, he secretly marries the young and lovely Desmonda against her father’s will. He married for love, but suspecting her of infidelity because of lies he is told, he seeks revenge, which ends in tragedy. The plot is too involved to go into here and I will let you discover the twists and turns for yourself.
Much of the action of this 2 1/2 hour play takes place on an open stage, with columns on the right used as for entrances. To the left Set Designers, Scott Ashley and David Paul has built a renaissance style building. By using an added lions head, they have given it the appearance of being in Venice at the start of the play, then later it is removed and it reflects the setting in Cyprus. Paul’s lighting design creates the various moods for the many scenes.
One of the reasons Shakespeare is so well regarded and done is because his works offer up a variety of interpretations. To find the right one for each character can be slippery and complex. Director Robyn Neal has cast this show with 20 good actors, and her leading characters are especially strong and well chosen. Her direction is excellent and I especially liked Ms. Neal’s staging of a brief marriage scene at the start of the show, something not in the script, but it makes understanding what follows much easier.
Larry Knight is Othello, and adds another impressive role to this resume. He was selected for the Best Actor award for his Brutus in PBTS’s Julius X. Mr. Knight has the physical magnetism, the commanding eyes and voice and the ability to convey a sense of danger of a man who falls prey to monster: sexual jealousy. Other than some moments when he seemed to be rushing his lines, this is a fine performance of a difficult character to portray.
Derek Coghlan as Iago does justice to Shakespeare’s greatest and blackest of all villains. He plants the lies in Othello’s mind about his wife and friends as revenge for being passed over for a promotion. His clever use of asides to the audience made us feel like accomplices in the plot. Coghlan uses vocal variety to amuse us and paint himself sinister. He strikes poses that indeed make him look like a gangster and in one scene he reminded me of James Cagney in “Public Enemy.”
Garry Burgoyne is Cassio, the officer who Othello suspects of bedding Desdemona. A handsome and straightforward man, one can see why women are attracted to him and his portrayal was convincing.
Jessica Palombo is marvelous as Desdemona, a part that certainly moves her up into the leading lady roles in the future. We know she can do musicals, and she has done a number of smaller dramatic and comic roles impressively on her way to this feather in her cap. She is believable as the dignified yet vulnerable young beauty deeply in love with Othello. Her world crumbles as Othello’s rage rises and condemns her.
Joseph Walz plays Roderigo, the hapless suitor to Desdemona, not so much as a fool, but a man of some means who has become enamored by the woman’s beauty and even though reject by her and her father, still seeks to gain her favor utilizing Iago’s trickery.
If Tim Tebow is the superman of college football, than Tracy Olin is local theatre’s superwoman. She designed and coordinated the 50 or so costumes in this show, making many of them from scratch. They are outstanding, especially Desdemona’s many outfits. In addition Ms. Olin has a one of the important supporting roles as Iago’s abused wife and maid to Desdemona. I found Emilia an interesting character that I wanted to like, but she a person who betrays her friend to her husband, not through malice but stupidity. Oh, did I mention, just to fill out the other eight hours in the day, Tracy is the full time box office manager for Theatre Jacksonville. Players needs to create a special award for her in this season’s Pelican Awards.
Kudos to fight choreographer Greg Luete for the exciting sword fighting scenes. Kudos as well Assistant Director Holly Gutshall, Stage Manager Kerndra McNatt, and of course to the Community Foundation’s Tom Nehl Fund.
Over all I found this to be an excellent production. It appeared a little rushed at times, but Director Neal brought it in less than three hours with the intermission and the play itself can run three hours. In act one some church bells briefly ring. They are far too loud and none of the dialogue that is spoken at that time can be understood.
I highly recommend this production, a great way to introduce someone to Shakespeare and his plays.
CAST: Garry Burgoyne( Cassio), Javon Daniels (Officer) Derek Coghlan (Iago), Laura Crolla (Courtesan) Ric Duncan (Duke of Venice/Lodovico) Larry Fairall (Senator/Gratiano) Daniel Goodling (Officer) Jacob Goodling (Servant/Messanger) Anthony Hodge (Officer/Gentleman) Larry Knight (Othello) Lisa LaGrande(Bianca) Steve McMahon (Brabantio) Tracy Olin (Emilia) Jessica Palombo(Desdemona), Andy Ratliff (Messanger) Matt Shuman(Officer/Gentleman/Clown) Thomas Trauger (Priest/Montano) Joseph Walz(Roderigo) Morgan Williams (Courtesan) and Sam Willis (Sailor/Gentleman/Courtesan)
by DICK KEREKES