This past Saturday, Great Lakes Theater Festival opened its 49th season with Shakespeare’s psychological thriller Othello. Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to the return of GLTF since the Spring Rep’s productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Bat Boy; my first Shakespearean tragedy at GLTF did not disappoint.
This intense tale of jealousy and revenge is considered one of the greatest dramas of all time. Although I’ve read the play before, this was the first time I had seen a production of it. Director Risa Brainin did an excellent job as she strived to unravel the reasons behind the villainous Iago’s duplicity and Othello’s inexplicable belief in his lies.
Although Othello may be the title character, I found that it was Iago who drove the GLTF production. Actor David Anthony Smith returned to the Hanna stage after last year’s comedic turn as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And while the villain of Othello was a stark contrast to the bumbling Mechanical, Smith’s standout performance was compelling in its treachery. Iago’s actions may have been deplorable, but Smith’s characterization showed a glimmer of relatable humanity. Behind the jealousy, he exhibited the pride and paranoia that everyone has fallen prey to at some time. Smith even elicited a few laughs from the audience, especially as he played off of Eduardo Pacer’s Roderigo who was both privy to Iago’s manipulations but also a victim of them.
Another performance that stood out to me was Aled Davies’ portrayal of Desdemona’s father, Brabantino. Although he was only featured in a few of the early scenes, the anger, sadness, and betrayal Davies beautifully portrayed after Desdemona’s elopement plants the earliest seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind, which Iago later exploits.
From the technical side of the production, I enjoyed the minimalistic and utilitarian nature of Russel Metheny’s set. The bi-level frame that the majority of the play’s action takes place in had a fittingly militaristic touch and effectively reflected the cage that Iago and Othello’s jealousies entrap them in. Composer Michael Keck’s dynamic soundtrack also did a stunning job of echoing the powerful emotions behind Iago’s deception and intrigue.
With the success of the individual players, applause needs to also be given to Producing Artistic Director Charles Fee. It’s under his guidance that productions such as Othello thrive and the GLTF theatre company continues to grow. Unlike one-off touring productions, you have the opportunity with a well-established theatre company to see the actors’ and production staff’s progression from season to season.
Last season was when I was first introduced to GLTF so I was thrilled to come back and see how actors from last year returned to undertake drastically different roles. By successfully balancing the experience of veteran GLTF members (such as Smith who’s now in his 8th season) with the fresh insights of new additions (such as David Alan Anderson who made his GLTF debut as Othello and Pacer who’s only in his second season), the Great Lakes Theatre Festival will continue to provide exciting theatrical experiences for the city of Cleveland.
Othello runs until October 31st along with the second half of GLTF’s Fall Rep — Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. Although the main event of each evening is the onstage performance, the GLTF has again expanded its popular Experience Enhancement Series with a full offering of pre and post show activities.
As in previous seasons, the Hanna opens 90 minutes before curtain so that audience members can watch the crew set the stage and the actors’ combat calls. Post-show activities for the 2010-2011 season include Salon Thursdays, Happy Hour Fridays, Ice Cream Social Sundays, and their new ‘Nightcap Night’ music series on non-opening-night Saturdays.
I’m definitely looking forward to seeing An Ideal Husband towards the end of October. Scott’s parents, who are fans of Wilde, will be visiting Cleveland so it’ll be a great opportunity to introduce them to the Great Lakes Theater Festival as well.
Great Lakes Theatre Festival 411:
The Fall Repertory
The Hanna Theatre