It wasn't the worst opening night I've seen by far; that dubious honor goes to an ill-starred production of Candide that should be left to the distant past. But last Friday's opening of Othello at Deep Dish was far from the best; a troubled affair in which clearly superior characterizations and dramatic scene work were yoked to more questionable kin, exacerbated by a small handful of outright flubs that all theatrical flesh is regrettably heir to.
No doubt, a number of these difficulties were momentary aberrations that will have been ironed out by the time you read these words—indeed, some of them appear to have been corrected before the evening's final scene. But other conditions I viewed might well require longer treatment over the show's four-week run.
Under Paul Frellick's direction, David Henderson's memorable Iago hoodwinks Roderigo (David McClutchey), a gullible businessman, and provokes the bewildered Brabantio (Tom Marriott), Desdemona's father, in a crisp opening sequence. But as the first act unfolded, the usually sure-footed Gil Faison seemed too tentative in his first scenes as the title character. In this he wasn't alone: Regional newcomer Miranda Kahn seemed even more indirect as Desdemona, his new bride, before a couple of veteran actors went up on their lines in the council scene at the end of Act 1. Sputtering scenes followed sharp ones through the early passages. A tight fight sequence in which Ryan Brock's good Cassio loses his reputation in a drunken brawl preceded Iago and Othello's first cat-and-mouse episode, which seriously dragged at its beginning. But, alone on stage, Henderson and Faison made a mid-scene course correction, establishing the pace and dramatic tension that served the show until its end.
That tension is only heightened during their further duets in the third and fourth acts, as Iago insidiously undermines Othello's confidence in his wife. As Henderson's villain ever so gradually turns the screws, Faison's character undergoes the torments of the damned. As Frellick directs their hellish pas de deux, Iago clearly miscalculates once or twice: A word or two too many nearly drives Othello, at that instant, into an uncontrollable—and clearly homicidal—rage. In those moments, Iago has to scramble to restore the delicate imbalance in his victim's mind, in a suspenseful tightrope dance for two.
Would that that were the end of the story. Even though Mary Forester finds a convincing array of emotional notes as Iago's wife, the dour Emilia, her fourth-act scene with Kahn's Desdemona grew tedious before ending in a soliloquy that dawdled.
And while Kahn's résumé boasts first-rate theatrical training in New York and London, her education was still very much in progress on opening night. I regret to report that her underdeveloped Desdemona was little more than a dishrag, largely bereft of the willfulness and nerve that a Venetian senator's daughter might have needed to marry a foreign commander of that time. As of Friday, one was left wondering if Kahn had tackled one of Shakespeare's leading ladies too early in her career.