presented by Ghostlight Theatre Company of New England
adapted by John Kneeland
directed by Ozan Haksever
“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-ey'd monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.”
Duplicity, class warfare, racism, political intrigue. Ruined love, envy, betrayal and death: the elements for an absorbing night out at the theatre?
Really? Who wants to see that?
The answer is: you do, especially if the play is Shakespeare's provocative tragedy OTHELLO, and and the company producing it is the Ghostlight Theatre Company of New England.
I'll say straight out that Ghostlight's version of OTHELLO has its flaws, most notably in how it's staged. Its pacing is uneven, at times lugubrious. Scene changes add to its running time. While some actors rise to the challenge of translating the intent of the text, others fall short. Stage combat is tentative at best. Opportunities to lift the show to a potentially fascinating level are missed.
That being said, there's enough about OTHELLO that's praiseworthy. This version, adapted and directed by longtime Ghostlight members John Kneeland and Ozan Haksever respectively, brings updated, thoughtfully crafted concepts to an enduring stage work while still honoring its power to move an audience with resonating themes of deception, prejudice, and alienation.
Director Ozan Haksever partners well with adaptor John Kneeland in this updated OTHELLO; the pair give the play a gritty, urban look and the dynamics of a latter-day gang rivalry, allowing Shakespeare's original text to frame the story.
This may seem on the surface an odd juxtaposition of styles; however, Haksever's and Kneeland's cerebral approach to the material gives the narrative more intrigue and dimension. The story that Shakespeare intended to tell is unchanged by the revisions, giving it an appearance and a style upon which contemporary audiences can hang a hook. The language retains its poetic efficacy and becomes almost incidental- we understand what drives the characters, and the circumstances under which they labor, regardless of how they speak.
Many members of the cast hand in solid, consistent performances. Of particular note is Nathan Johnson as a fiery, impassioned Othello; Jenna Forrestal (Desdemona), Kasey McNulty (Emelia), Michael Lavimoniere (Cassio) and Danny Audette (Montano) are also inventive with their characterizations.
Without question, Kyle Gregory as Iago is OTHELLO's most compelling character; the actor makes a host of excellent choices, both in articulating what Iago wants and showing us how he aspires to achieve his aims. Iago is both pivotal and integral to the events in the play as they unfold; through his own diabolical machinations in pitting white against black or setting kinsmen at odds against one another, Iago's imprimatur is on nearly everything that transpires on stage.
Gregory's Iago is a creature possessed of a dual nature: one where both covetousness and ambition rule equally. Whether he's putting his own Machiavellian mind or his physical body to the task, Gregory's Iago isn't afraid to use what's at hand to aid him in his schemes. In his plotting against Othello directly or manipulating others to do his bidding, Iago becomes a prosopopoeia- the living incarnation of that eternal idiom "a means to an end". Gregory endows Iago's nature, and his duality, with a sensual, elegant brilliance; his energy and investment in the role rules this production.
Design and technical elements by Thomas Morgan and Craig Brennan are wisely kept to a minimum, with the exception of an excess of set pieces brought on to denote different settings- repeated placing and striking adds unnecessary time to an already long show. A graphics screen is incorporated into the set but is woefully underused.
Fight scenes lack energy and are unconvincing. A slyly humorous music score adds depth and color to many of the scenes, and the costumes by Jillian McNamara cleverly span fashion eras from the mid-20th century onward.
This isn't going to be the best OTHELLO you'll see, but there's enough substance in what Ghostlight brings to their incarnation of the show to warrant a look. The company has a reputation for taking familiar material and looking for ways to tell a story in a fresh, engaging manner.
They've certainly accomplished that with OTHELLO; this is by no stretch of the imagination "safe" theatre, and for their efforts and willingness to take risks, both OTHELLO and the company which brings it to the stage are worth your patronage. Check them out.
OTHELLO runs through March 15 at Club Lafayette, 465 Fletcher St., Lowell, MA. See the GLTNE website for information.
Michael J. Curtiss is a writer, playwright, and theatre critic. He administers THE GRANITE STAGE page and resides in southern New Hampshire.