Attending a Shakespeare performance in a 200-plus seat theater can be an exceptional experience, given a first-class cast and strong direction.
's new production of Othello, which opened this week, scores on all counts, delivering one of Shakespeare's most intense works straight-up and powerful.
Director Jasson Minadakis has no tricks up his sleeve, nor does he bow to the relevance issue in his concept.
It might be tempting to bring Othello home to his supposedly cheating wife from an outpost in Afghanistan, but Minadakis stages closely to the text and lets everything emerge through the language.
The focus is the language, and Othello and Iago in their death struggle are given ample space to dwell upon the poetry so that nothing is lost.
Minadakis moves the actors minimally and often metaphorically. Aldo Billingslea in the title role commands the entire stage when he enters triumphant from war in Act 1. In the scene with Iago that launches his downfall, he descends slowly from a balcony to the stage; in the finale he lies low on the marriage bed with his murdered wife.
His is a magnetic performance as he shows fierce love for Desdemona and equally fierce hatred for her once Iago has set the poison in his mind.
There is nothing of the barbarian in Billingslea's interpretation – after all, Desdemona loves Othello for the noble warrior he is, and Billingslea brings high refinement, potency and class to his portrayal.
Craig Marker's Iago is surprisingly subdued as he enters the scene. Compared with the usual blustery baritone in the operatic version, Marker seems withdrawn, his feelings internalized, his sinister asides mere murmurs.
But after he suggests to Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful with Cassio -- well and boyishly acted by Patrick Russell -- the lurking evil in Iago's heart breaks loose like a lethal blast. As Othello begins to rave, a brave soldier brought down by jealousy, Iago matches him rant for rant, casting evil all around him.
Mairin Lee gives a mixed performance as Desdemona. Her voice is high-pitched and small, and although the 'Willow Song' is more poignant for her show of vulnerability, she seems an unlikely match for the lusty Moor.
Better weighted is her marked loyalty to and love for Othello after he accuses her, leaving no doubt about her feelings. Liz Sklar is a fiery Emilia, Desdemona's confidante and Iago's wife. Her silent, stunned reaction to Desdemona's fate underscores the tragedy.
Also in the cast are Rinabeth Apostol as Bianca, Nicholas Pelczar as a touchingly blustery Rodorigo, and Dan Hiatt as Desdemona's troubled father.
J.B. Wilson's stark and effective setting, well lit by Kurt Landisman, shows a raised platform center stage that serves as both killing field and fatal marriage bed. Fumiko Bielefeldt's costumes are period-perfect, and Dave Maier works wonders with shield and sword in the battle scenes.
Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, this well-focused, high-energy Othello will be seen by several hundred schoolchildren during its run, now through April 22 at Marin Theatre Company.
--Bay City News Service