Sunday, September 26, 2010

Moor is less

(David Anthony Smith, left, is Iago and David Alan Anderson is Othello in the Great Lakes Theater Festival production. Photo by Roger Mastroianni.)

The Great Lakes Theater Festival is opening its season on a note of impish false advertising, touting its "Othello" as "a thriller of Shakespearean proportions." Instead, it delivers an Othello as a rip-roarer of banal boobies. If Shakespeare's 17th-century tragedy once inspired some of Olivier's greatest emoting and Verdi's most sublime music, the present Great Lakes cell-phone toting, jungle-fatigues Moor could, at best, evoke some decent ratings as an NBC mid-summer replacement.

There are three positive things that can be said about director Risa Brainin's updated approach: it moves at the speed of sound; it's the theatrical equivalent of Cliff's Notes, making for a production easy enough for an attentive-deficit junior-high student to comprehend; and it delivers up one great theatrical moment - a round of self-applause from a handcuffed Iago (a riveting, Branaugh-esque performance by David Anthony Smith) as he smugly surveys a room strewn with the bodies of his victims.

However, on the negative side, with a Colin Powell-like Othello beloved by all, a nervy, blues-singing Desdemona, an army barracks set, and a company that seems to frug more than move, the production loses all pretensions to what we usually regard as tragedy. As a matter of fact, it was quite baffling to see an audience member in the front row following the production along with his script. Except for the lack of commercials, the evening was no more involving, challenging or difficult than what's stored on your VCR.

Great Lakes Theater Festival's production of "Othello" runs through October 31. For tickets, call 216-241-6000 or go to 

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