Twas Strange, but far from Pitiful: Baldwinsville Theatre Guild crafts compelling, quirky “Othello”

Twas Strange, but far from Pitiful:  Baldwinsville Theatre Guild crafts compelling, quirky “Othello”

“Othello”Presented by Baldwinsville Theatre Guild Location Presbyterian Education Center, 64 Oswego St. Baldwinsville When October 21-29 Runtime About 3 hours Tickets $15  Students $12 Seniors $12 (matinee only) Review By Aasimah Navlakhi

Donʼt let the Army uniforms, ponchos and go-go boots throw you off. Directors Stephanie Long and Kim Jakway set their Othello in 1960s America, against the backdrop of the civil rights movement, war, and peace-loving hippies. And it works.

“Othello” is essentially a story of love gone wrong. Chosen over his attendant, Iago (Trevor F. Hill) for his honesty, bravery and immovable constitution, Othello (Maxwel Anderson) is given command of the US legion at Cyprus. Iago isnʼt too thrilled. He sees Othello for what he really is:

“The Moor is of a free and open nature,

That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,

And will as tenderly be led by the nose

As asses are.”

The play follows Iagoʼs attempts to poison Othelloʼs mind against his wife, thesweet Desdemona (Lynn Barbato), using the young, impressionable Cassio (Cole Salo) and the naïve, desperate Roderigo (Michael King) as puppets in the process.

In a bold move, the directors set the first scenes of Act I before the curtain, with Iago and Roderigo entering through the audience and performing off the stage, which allows for minimalist sets - two stone benches and two mammoth marble pillars.

There is no doubt that this play belongs to the actors. Hillʼs crafty, vulgar and seductive performance as Iago is faultless. He owns the role with an ease and passion that is unparalleled, especially in the delivery of his monologues during which he locks eyes with the audience on several occasions without dropping character.

Maxwel Andersonʼs Othello is understated and sometimes wooden, warming up as the play moves along and shining most in his interactions with Iago and Desdemona.

King is adequately pitiable as the fervent lover, Roderigo, and Saloʼs seemingly amateur portrayal lends an endearing quality to Cassio.

But the show belongs to Barbato. From the moment she walks on stage, she owns the show. She oozes vivacity, sparkle and sincerity, delivering Shakespearean dialogue as it were regular parley, and raising the scale of the performance so drastically that the audience almost wants to stop watching once she is dead.

Her character develops without a hitch, from the doe-eyed, happy bride to the obedient wife and finally the confused, defeated and betrayed lover. When Othello turns on her, slapping her to the ground and calling her a whore, you can see the light go out in her eyes, and her final death scene leaves the audience gasping for air as we join her struggle to keep breathing.

The supporting cast consists of a lot of newbies, many of which are very apparently so. Rachel Torba-Grageʼs portrayal of Emilia is unconvincing, and Sarah Bradstreetʼs Bianca leaves audiences cold.

I must tip my hat to the directors of the show. They manage to give a fresh, new face to an existing classic that has seen more than its share of adaptations, throwing in little gems like the choreographed synopsis of the first three acts before intermission, and a musical score including tracks from the Rolling Stones, The Band and Jefferson Airplane. If they missed one thing, it was to adapt the dialogue from its Elizabethan origin, resulting in hippies speaking Shakespearean.

This play did not produce a single dull moment. Make a note in your calendar. This is one show you donʼt want to miss.