There's a lot of flashy acting going on in Insurgo Theater's "Othello," but what the play is actually about, amidst all the chest-pounding, is a mystery.
William Shakespeare's tragedy gives us an African prince (played by John Beane, with a bit of a tan) in peaceful European society. He's much better in action as a Venetian general than in making nice among royalty. He's brought down not by his being an outsider, but by his unwarranted feelings of jealousy towards his white wife, Desdemona (Melanie Ash). It's another one of those "great men with one serious flaw" plays, and it gifts dramatic literature with at least two memorable characters -- the Moor and his notoriously bitter enemy, Iago.
This nearly three-hour (with intermission) modern-dress production quickly runs into trouble. Beane doesn't begin to suggest military bearing. In his curly black hair, beard, trench coat, jeans, and dirt-encrusted shoes, he comes off like one of the slackers in "Rent." His soft voice and gentle manner is more Gandhi than Patton. This robs the script of a major dramatic arc: the slow emotional destruction of a strong man.
Ernie Curcio plays the evil Iago as a comically insane jokester. His line inflections bring to mind a slew of Jack Nicholson movies. Curcio's Lex Luthor-smirks, rapid-fire line deliveries and eternal glares make him such an obvious cartoon villain, that you wonder why Othello doesn't immediately look at him and say, "What's the matter with you?"
And when the long evening is over, you have to wonder what you've been watching -- a sketch about a comic thumbing his nose at his boss? The underbelly of the Othello-Iago relationship is lost, and that relationship is what the play is all about.
Jamie Carivelli is alternately brazen-lusty and understated as the courtesan Bianca, and, as Desdemona's father, Paul Besterman effortlessly suggests the authority of a troubled senator.
But Beane's overtaxed himself. He's star, co-director, artistic director, producer, and has cast his wife as his leading lady. It's unfortunate Beane doesn't seem to feel the need to have someone keeping him in check. He obviously loves the grandeur of acting, but whether or not he respects the hard work in creating genuine, consistent characters -- for himself and the performers he directs -- remains to be seen.
Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.