OTHELLO -- L.A. (Through May 28) BACKSTAGE WEST

Reviewed by Anne Louise Bannon

Stella Adler Theatre

6773 Hollywood Blvd. Hollywood

Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. Sun. 2 p.m.
Apr. 20-May 28 2000
$18
(310) 289-2999

As the lights go down for the last time on the Kings Players' production of Shakespeare's tragic tale, there is only one final impression: Wow. All right, Abner Genece's Othello is a little underenergized in the first half. Soldier/attendant David Williams rushes through his lines so fast we're not sure just what's going on with the Turks and Cyprus. Even Mary Dryden's Desdemona seems unnecessarily ditsy at first. But Genece's performance in the second half, especially during that all-important final scene, is almost beyond words, it's so powerful. At last, this Othello is a truly worthy opponent for the scheming Iago, played by George Almond. Almond's performance is a delight, forgoing oiliness for earthiness, which works much better. Iago is a tough role. Because we know he is tricking Othello into believing that his bride Desdemona is cheating on him with Othello's lieutenant, Cassio, Iago has to be at least somewhat charming or Othello ends up looking like a dimwit for believing the schmuck. Almond is so much fun, you can't help giggling every time Othello comments on "Honest Iago." Honest, my left foot-and yet, we almost buy it. In fact, if Almond wanted to make his Iago absolutely perfect, he could be even more charming around his victims. Like many Shakespearean women, Desdemona is almost a prop role-there because you need a wife to suspect in the first place. Dryden does pull together some lovely moments, especially as she prepares for bed on Desdemona's final night. Pattie Tierce's Emilia could be a little more anxious for her husband Iago's love, but other than that, she is a lovely foil for Dryden's Desdemona. Director Bruce Matthews has obviously spent a great deal of time with his main three actors-without question, they offer the strongest performances. He could have spent much more time with the minor roles. Peter Morse's Cassio is stoic and serviceable, David Jay Barry does some nice, mildly comic turns as the dupe Roderigo. But they are not nearly as well-developed as the leads. In addition, Andrea Pandazedes as the whore Bianca couldn't be heard at all. The paper backdrop of the set, designed by Larry Borkin and Dean Warren, beautifully underscored the substance of Iago's lies. As for Donna Weaver's costumes: Loved Iago's codpiece, loved the African theme to Othello's clothes, but if you've got a character prone to spinning, like Desdemona, better make sure that the underskirt is not just a fake front. Maybe this wasn't the gold standard for Othello (saw that one in Ashland last summer), but it is very, very powerful and very, very good.

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