“Othello” is often described as Shakespeare’s “most perfect play” and the current production at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, is a particularly strong rendering of the tragic tale of love, jealousy and betrayal.
Bonnie Monte, the theater’s Artistic Director (can it really be her 21st season?) directs with her amazing eye for important details and her ear for touches of comedy, and she has assembled a mostly veteran company on stage. The epic downfall of the Moor of Venice and his beautiful Desdemona at the hands of his villainous “ancient” (i.e. his personal lieutenant,) Iago, is both fascinating and heart-breaking and the principal intrigue is in these three roles.
And the roles are being handled by a trio of super-talented actors: Lindsay Smiling plays Othello, returning to Madison after “The Winter’s Tale,” four seasons ago. His is an intriguing portrayal, at times egotistical and self-righteous; at others, bewildered and self-serving. He is most powerful in his final scenes, when Iago’s treachery becomes apparent.
Robert Cuccioli might well have spent his entire career singing the male leads in shows such as “Oklahoma” or “The Sound of Music" across the country. (He played Javert in “Les Miserables” on Broadway and was up for every known award for his roles in “Jekyll and Hyde.” Instead he had returned to Madison for nine seasons to play Shakespeare. (He once called it learning his craft.) His Iago is a wonder to behold—full of fury from his opening speech, but strained clearly through a closely woven sieve.
And, returning for her eighth summer, is Victoria Mack as the lovely and innocent Desdemona. Ms Mack is something of an expert of Shakespeare heroines (Cordelia, Rosalind and Katherine, among them.) Here she manages to capture the narrow spaces between virtuous and flirtatious perfectly.
Others stand out in the large cast: Bill Christ as Desdemona’s father; Matt Bradford Sullivan, as the gullible Roderigo; Jacqueline Antaramian is a particularly fine Emilia (Iago’s wife). Also Jay Leibowitz, as Lodovico and Jon Barker, as Cassio. Director Monte has cut about an hour from the script, which still runs over three hours. You’ll never miss it. But you’ll certainly be sorry if you miss the production.
“Othello" continues at The Shakespeare Theatre of N.J. at Drew University (36 Madison Ave., Madison, N.J.) through Oct. 2. Please call the box office at (973) 408-5600 for performance times and reservations. Tickets start at $32.00