Sacramento Shakespeare Festival began its summer two-play season with a quirky comedic take on Twelfth Night, placing it in the 1920s, complete with Three Stooges antics. For its second offering, the company sticks to the classics, with a traditional rendition of Othello relying on Elizabethan language, characters, costumes and music.
Othello is basically about the green-eyed monster, jealousy, as well as those other dark human traits like manipulations, accusations, backstabbing, lusting, lying, cheating and killing—all of which seem oddly familiar in these times of reality TV. (Well, so far there hasn’t been a killing on a reality show.)
As with most Shakespeare plays, Othello has a convoluted plot with various subplots and sundry characters. There are two central figures. The title character, Othello, is a dark-skinned Moor who excels on the battlefield, who’s won the heart of the beautiful Desdemona but still feels insecure and unaccepted. His nemesis is Iago, the classic villain who’s jealous of anyone’s success and enjoys destroying all who have it, whether the success is on the battlefield or the bedroom. Because he believes Othello has wronged him, he goes gunning.
Director Luther Hanson has stuck with the tried and true, with the creative additions of a nice dance scene and a traveling troubadour (David Riggs) who plays haunting violin numbers throughout. Unfortunately, what he doesn’t quite have is cast members in sync with each other, or performers who are at ease with the material and language. And he doesn’t have a solid Othello or Iago.
Lorne White cuts an impressive figure as Othello but mumbles his lines and seems to recite by rote, which is this cast’s curse. He does show promise when he plays the final scene, but he needs to be more imposing to be believable. Stephen Quinn, on the other hand, has wonderful ease with the language, but plays Iago less as a villain and more as an impish backstabber, à la Rob from Survivor. Quinn’s quite charming but isn’t quite the menacing monster we love to hate.
The women prove to be the strong anchors of this production—most notably Katherine Pappa as the newlywed but soon-dead Desdemona and Jana Wilhelmi as the manipulating yet righteous Emilia. JJ Charlesworth as Cassio and Jackson Craft as the Duke of Venice also give solid performances.
Overall, the performances do have potential, and the production may find its rhythm during the run. But for now, it feels more like a rehearsal than a finished product.