Iago worthy star of this ‘Othello’
By ANNA SIMON, Gazette Intern
Wednesday, July 25, 2001 -- HADLEY - One of the benefits of seeing a Shakespearean tragedy outdoors is that just as daylight departs, the plot thickens.
By the time the moon has risen, corruption is everywhere, made particularly haunting by the dark. We are left to drive home in the blackness.
So it was with The Hampshire Shakespeare Company's "Othello," the second show of the company's 11th season. Performed at the bucolic Hartsbrook School on Bay Road in Hadley, the outdoor set uses the Mount Holyoke Range and acres of pasture as its backdrop.
Directors Sarah Wilson and R. Dean Acheson shape a cohesive, professional production. Using a minimal set enhanced by period costumes and lighting, "Othello" stands on the strength of its cast. The show has the right addition of music and swordplay, with a touch of Fool. Scenes flow seamlessly.
Othello is played by Aaron Crutchfield, a skilled professional actor from Boston. He does an admirable job of taking Othello from a romantic and dignified African general through a descent of murderous jealously. Crutchfield has taken a problematic role and made it as intriguing as possible.
Shakespeare, despite naming the play after Othello, did not make him the main character. Shakespeare provides little context for Othello, or explanations for his unquestioning jealously and rage. Othello is one of the original Jekyl and Hydes - first he's good-humored and rational, next he's blind with fury and down right mean to Desdemona.
As written, Othello is emotional, yes, but fairly one-dimensional, with unclear motives.
The play is really about Iago, Othello's un-promoted, spiteful soldier who plots his General's downfall. Played by Bill Stewart, a local actor and elementary school teacher, Iago sets the play in motion and single-handedly develops the plot's action.
As evil as Macbeth but without the remorse, Iago is slick as oil, using and abusing those who trust him to get his revenge against Othello. His confessional soliloquies, one of the few dramatic conventions used in "Othello," would make Iago downright likable, if he weren't so evil.
Besides being overlooked for a promotion, we're not sure why Iago "hates the Moor" so much, as he says half a dozen times in an early scene. But his jealously, great conniving and sheer stage time make him the most developed, and hence most interesting character. Stewart deftly interprets the language, making him a guilty pleasure to watch as he undoes Othello.
Iago's wife Aemilia, Desdemona's lady-in-waiting, nearly steals the show. Christine Stevens, a founding member of Hampshire Shakespeare Company and seasoned Shakespearean actress, has taken a supporting role and made it particularly rich. Aemilia is one of the most authentic characters in the script and one of the most appealing to watch.
Her scenes with Desdemona serve to fortify the other character, who, like Othello, got Shakespeare's short end of the character stick. Actress Susanna Apgar has created a particularly strong Desdemona who resists the inherent passivity of the character.
The problem with "Othello" lies not with this company's production, which is nearly flawless, but with the text. It is difficult to empathize with Othello or Desdemona due to their under-development as characters.
Hence when the climatic finale of murder and suicide transpire, the audience doesn't feel the "huge eclipse of sun and moon" Othello speaks of. But add other deaths - and "Othello" gains the weight it should have.
The directors realize the limitations of "Othello" and point out that ultimately, this is a story about violence, particularly domestic violence, and simply does not have a satisfying resolution. They have created a strong and accessible production from one of Shakespeare's classics.
"Othello" runs through Aug. 5. Performances are Wednesdays through Sundays at 7 p.m. outdoors at the Hartsbrook School, 193 Bay Road, Hadley. Tickets $12 for general admission, $9 for students and seniors and $6 for children. Call 548-8118.