THEATER REVIEW: All the world’s a stage as Act-Out! performs “Othello”

July 23, 2014 Helen Klein
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Actors in Elizabethan garb, framed by the bushes of the Narrows Botanical Garden, transported their audience – literally as well as figuratively – into the world of “Othello,” Shakespeare’s tale of love, jealousy and rage, in Act-Out! Productions’ performance of the classic play – the fourth annual installment of the acting company’s Shakespeare in the Park series.

Indeed, the production, co-directed by John Stillwaggon and Carolyn Dellinger, was something of a moveable feast, as the transfixed audience, clutching folding chairs and blankets, followed the actors into various parts of the garden, where the different scenes – in Venice, and then in Cyprus – were set.

The lack of a proscenium – leading actors to intermingle with viewers on the garden’s gently sloped lawns as they plotted, fought and interacted – brought an immediacy to the production that can be lacking in a traditional theater setting.

In the scene where the scheming, charming and totally amoral Iago (Stillwaggon) connives to get the honest but somewhat hapless Cassio (Michael Artzer) drunk, for instance, Cassio after toasting and clinking his “cannikin,” passes it to an audience member to hold before going on to his next bit of stage business.

That got laughs, as did many of Iago’s suggestive speeches, as he taunts and teases Othello (Mohammed Saad Ali) to a fever pitch of jealousy over his faithful and devoted wife, Desdemona (Dellinger), whom he is led to suspect by Iago is embroiled in a steamy affair with Cassio.

It is a play loaded with double entendres, multiple meanings – particularly in the speeches of Iago, whose words contrast so vividly with the sincere, and increasingly disturbed, speeches of Othello as Iago convinces him of his wife’s “infidelity.”

Even for those unfamiliar with the play, it was a true delight to listen to Shakespeare’s language expertly rendered, culminating in Othello’s final speech, as he stands over the body of the woman he loves and has just strangled: “Speak of one who loved not wisely but too well, … of one whose hand, like the base Judean, threw a pearl away, richer than all his tribe.”

The sun had already set over the Narrows by that point in the production, with the ground littered with bodies (Othello and Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s servant, Emilia, played by Sara Minisquero, also die in the final scene), Iago led away, silent, to pay for his crimes, and the audience eager to come back, next year, for the next installment of Act-Out!’s Shakespeare in the Park.

There will be two more presentations of “Othello,” at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 27. The suggested donation of $10 goes to support Narrows Botanical Garden, in Shore Road Park at 72nd Street.

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