Leather Bound, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Othello
Before the show, the house received preface that the cast had not run a full dress rehearsal of the second act. Ut oh… The action that ensued on stage warranted the hedge, however unneeded. Delving into the original play on race, The Rep’s Creative Director Mark Clements continues his reputation for fearless confrontation of theater’s most difficult subject matter with a singeing rendition of Shakespeare’s Othello. Clements leaves little doubt that he has done his part to keep The Rep’s seats warm.
Whether viewed as a mirror or as reinforcement of prevailing sentiments on human social order in a western context, take it for what you will. Irrevocably, Othello transforms the Rep’s Resident Actors into rugged and utterly unrecognizable players mastering the stage, with guest actor Lindsay Smiling leading the way. All opportunity for liberties taken, aside from the script, Clements’ production of Othello runs whole hog for three hours tonging the audience’s ear with Shakespeare’s knack for intrigue and all things rhetorical, while shaking them with imaginative set design, special effects, and attention charming costumes, choreography and props.
Reaching the top early and often, although couple characters teeter over at times where subtly might have dutifully taken the place of contemporary comedic influences, the players deliver an entertaining performance while clearly having fun in their craft. Familiar faces cloak themselves in ample stage method and a few faces make new memories out of their scenes.
By intermission, although it didn’t register when referencing his previous roles, thriving beneath the veneer of Cassio (the venerable and unlikely pawn in Iago’s treachery) I finally notice Reese Madigan in great form, per usual. Lee Ernst duos as Brabantio, vitriol and father to Desdemona, and Montano the Venetian underboss in Cyprus. Desdemona, played on a pedestal by Mattie Hawkinson, accepts the courtship of the Venetian war hero Othello (Lindsay Smiling), which would have been okay but he’s… well… “the Moor”.
Other Key Ingredients
The wedding of Desdemona and Othello doesn’t just enrage her father but also conjures the ire and envy of Rodrigo (Jonathan Wainwright), Desdemona’s secret admirer. In effort to get to Desdemona, Rodrigo unleashes Iago‘s (Gerard Neugent) socio-pathic predisposition on Othello, which in a course of unfortunate events wreaks havoc on the newly weds and all of the rest Venice, to the consternation of the Duke of Venice played like a true bad-ass by James Pickering.
As hero and foil, Smiling and Neugent charismatically pace the production fluidly and effortlessly on book, highlighting Shakespeare’s story with intonation and gesture; Smiling accepting his curtain call almost too humbly.
For the Less Patient
Don’t care for a bunch of fancy unintelligible iambic pentameter, Clements has you covered there too. His production crew built an extremely stimulating visual experience that encompasses everything you might imagine in a motorcycle club themed Shakespeare production, oh I guess I didn’t mention that part. Tooling up of for their summer exhibition Worn to Be Wild at the Harley-Davidson Museum, Harley-Davidson pitched in for some cool surprises pumping adrenaline fueled modernity into the production. Iron, leather, fire and skin provide a little garnish.
Othello’s cast of bandits includes seasoned actors Micheal Kroeker (Lodovicio) and Deborah Staples (Emilia), rising stars Melissa Graves (Bianca) and Alexander Pawlowski IV (Herald) and the Repertory Ensemble N’tasha Anders, Eva Balistrieri, Tyler Burnet, Cody Craven, Nathaniel French, John Jernigan, Eric Lynch, Thomas Novak, Elizabeth Telford, and Jenna Vik.
Othello chops the stage until May 6th opening Friday, April 6th at 8p, running daily except Tuesday with weekday and weekend matinees.