It was a pretty god damn gorgeous day for a roadtrip this Wednesday, it must be said, so I’m rather glad that a roadtrip is exactly what I did. Along with Allan Mackey of Production Ottawa and his photog pal David (who did the driving on this particular trip…thanks again, David!), we set out in the early afternoon, loaded with Timbits, for the jolly land of Prescott. It’s St.Lawrence Shakespeare Festival time again, and this year I was finally going to get in on the action. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the sweetest little Shakespeare jam in the Ottawa region, and they’d lined up two of the bard’s biggies for the occasion. We got into the picturesque town (no exaggeration, it was freakin’ beautiful out there) in perfect time for the first of the day’s double-bill.
Getting the early start was OTHELLO, directed by Festival artistic director Ian Farthing. Each show boasted a large cast (the 15 company members each performed in both shows this year, a neat trick), and Farthing chose to cloak his production in the garb of the War of 1812, partly to coincide with the anniversary currently underway. It’s a fun conceit that lends a nice atmosphere to the proceedings. Not that ‘fun’ is really a word you usually associate with Othello. The classic, and tragic story is of the moor Othello, who takes lovely Desdemona as his bride, only to become unravelled in a jealous plot hatched by his trusted aide, and one of the great villains of stage history, Iago. And large cast or no, this play boils down in the end to its three crucial leads. Othello himself, played with gut-wrenching ferocity by Quincy Armorer, leads the way, pulling the audience along on the tragic fall from war hero to jealous husband, to much, much worse. Lana Sugarman as his devoted wife Desdemona is positively heartbreaking, protesting her innocence even as the accusations against her become ever more hateful and terrifying. And Shane Carty as the master manipulator Iago, while a little slow to start, quickly turns into the villain you love to hate (several folks in front of me couldn’t resist from raining him with a chorus of ‘Boo”s when he was hatching his schemes. Carty plays Iago like a renaissance JR Ewing, perfectly delighted with his own amoral, murderous ways. Tho at least people KNEW what a bastard JR was…nobody sees Iago coming until it’s far too late.
The rest of the cast is, happily, as solid as is needed to turn this production from good to great. Props to Warren Bain as Iago’s rival Cassio, Alix Sideris as the villain’s unknowing but kindhearted wife Emilia, and Kate Smith’s scene-stealing turn as Cassio’s would-be paramour Bianca. The musical score by Melissa Morris is quite nice…sometimes a little jarring, tho I suspect it works a little better in the evening.
This Othello is a slow burn of a play, drawing you in more and more as the emotional stakes ramp up, and up…by the bitter conclusion, it’s almost impossible not to be deeply affected. This is a smashing OTHELLO, with a great cast that does it justice. And certainly, a very happy introduction for me to the St.Lawrence fest. Even happier, there was more to come. And there is! Stay tuned, folks. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)