Monday, May 25, 2015

Roving Pittsburgher Report, PPT’s Cast of Othello Mesmerizing

PPT’s Cast of Othello Mesmerizing

by Megan Grabowski

Othello, a poignant conclusion to the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s
(PPT) paramount anniversary, is a time- honored and recognized dramatization of humanness. Othello, one of Shakespeare’s most emotive and prototypical tragedies, boasts a dazzling cast and is sure to be a performance you won’t forget. 

Live theater, especially Shakespeare, is an opportunity to bear witness to the enormous expression of human emotion.  Who is better, at verbally exposing the vast range of humanity, than Shakespeare?   PPT’s cast of Othello delivers a near 3 hour account of erroneous relationships heavily laced with all the elements that make a classic tragedy mesmerizing.

Othello’s world is filled with deceit and rage, injustice and passions beyond a normal scope. Under the directorial influence of Ted Pappas the cast play their parts perfectly. Initially, it appears the sensational characters are charming but as the story unfolds, they quickly turn to reveal themselves as teetering on the edge of insanity.  The Shakespearean players, Teagle F. Bougere as Othello, Jeremy Kushnier in the role of Iago, Amanda Lee as Desdemona and Jessica Wortham who plays Emilia, Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s maid appear comfortable in their part and absolutely  in tune with the traditional melodrama. 

Othello begins as Iago and Rodergio, (Christopher Michael McFarland) cunningly expose the recent elopement of Othello the moor and general to the lovely and chaste Desdemona.  By exposing the secret marriage to Brabantio, (Edward James Hyland) Desdemona’s father, Iago begins his conspiring manipulation in hope of seeking revenge upon Othello, for choosing Cassio, (Paul Terzenbach), as lieutenant, over him.  The story progresses rapidly as Iago devises a scheme to ruin Othello, in any way possible, as repayment for his slight.  Iago plots retributions, which draw each character into a web of shame and lies and emotional anguish. 

Bougere’s performance as Othello’s is a powerhouse of uncensored emotional flares.  In the presence of his arousing turmoil I shirked
slightly in my seat as he spread his arms and strut across the stage.  The anguish in his roars and his steady decline into insanity is expertly crafted.  Othello is dark skinned and muscular. His voice is deep and commanding, much like you would expect from a man with military rank and authority.  Bougere uses his physical appearance to bolster his part as Othello. 

Cobb’s performance as Desdemona the unwavering devotee, to her lord, captivates. Her final scene, a moment that will not leave my mind, brings the idea of martyrdom to the forefront of my thoughts.  The instant she begins to panic; fearing she may lose her love- I am moved almost to tears.   Cobb keeps her voice steady yet gentle.   Desdemona is not afraid to challenge Othello with her questions. She remains strong even in his weakest hour.  

The guile of Iago and all the characters susceptibility to his deviousness is striking.  Kushnier designs Iago to be dark and manipulative.  His primary role is to inflict pain, both physical and mental, upon Othello and anyone else who might possibly have a
vested interest in Othello’s happiness and success. Iago’s soliloquies are callous but enthralling.  In the final scene, Iago raises his head and looks out toward the audience, his jaw drops slightly and his lips part as if ready to say speak the final word and I realize I am holding my breath; waiting.   Although, as audience we are not supposed to ‘like’ the villain, based on the applause Kushnier received, it is safe to say he was very well received. 

Emilia is not just Desdemona’s maid.  They are confidants;   Emilia empathizes with Desdemona over the tribulations of marriage, she is a shoulder to lean on and always has an ear to lend.  Emilia is a protector too, looking out for Desdemona, trying to guide her by offering sound advice.  Wortham plays the part of the level headed maid, but soon enough, we learn she too is a victim of Iago’s scheme.  When it comes time for Emilia to confess her involvement, she is an accessory; her exaggerated laments give rise to Wortham’s stage status; soaring her from supporting cast to star. 

PPT’s cast of Othello draw you in with their embellished gestures, overstated facial expressions and crisp, clear delivery of Shakespeare’s poetry.  The stage is sparse but full.  A wooden stage, two benches and two oversized, handsome wooden doors do not allow the audience to make any presumptions about the performance or the performers. There are very few props to move on and off of the stage which keeps the focus solely on the cast. 

Othello is about pure raw emotion.  Good or evil, right or wrong, Shakespeare doesn’t worry about the moral so much as that it exists.  Pappas discovered a cast that executes the passion behind the play with precision. Othello will surely be considered one of PPT’s most memorable productions. 

Reviewed by Megan Grabowski
Income Maintance Caseworker at State of Pennsylvania Department of Human Services
Positively Pittsburgh Good News Reviewer, Professional writer, Social-Media Junkie, Community Fundraiser and Pittsburgh Enthusiast. 

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