nytheatre.com review by Liz Kimberlin
March 16, 2005
Palehorse Productions’s “inaugural premiere” of Othello has a few things going for it, among them, Fode Bangoura in the title role, nifty plastic retro-Elizabethan costuming, sexy lighting for sexy scenes—and a belly dance. The overall look of the show was obviously painstakingly planned and utilizes the very limited performing space for all its worth.
But this Othello also seems to suffer from its company’s birth-giving pains and has the feel more of a public rehearsal than an actual performance. The production, directed and designed by Rob Eggers—who also plays Iago—is performed in one hour and 50 minutes without an intermission, which leaves very little time to savor the text or keep up with the twist and turn of events. In fact, very little time for the actors to become characters and even less for the audience to digest it at all. I know this play and its intricacies rather well, but in less than a half hour, with the dialogue being blurted at break-neck speed, I was lost and my patience was at an end.
However, there were some oases to pull my attention back. With his wild shock of hair, perfect body and uncomfortably bright glint in his eye, Canadian-born Bangoura creates a very romantic but dangerous Othello. For all his unquestionable integrity and ability to lead an army, you’d still be scared stiff to say no to this guy even on a good day. And Bangoura not only has a deep, rich, lyrical voice that’s perfectly suited to Shakespeare’s timbre, he also has a facile grasp of the text that, on the night I saw the play, set him a world apart from a lot of his other cast-mates. Yifat Sharabi, as Cassio’s mistress, steals the scene when she makes her first entrance doing a belly dance. Like Bangoura, Sharabi embraces the text like a friend, and as the scheming, demanding seductress Bianca makes herself a real presence on the stage.
Since the only times this production ever really slows down are Othello and Desdemona’s scenes together, I can only gather that Eggers has chosen to make his directorial focus their love story. The rest of the time there’s mostly a lot of serious, frowning actors with frenetic yelling, stomping, and very choreographed swordplay that’s—well—loud. These ultimately felt to me like an endurance race for reality Shakespeare—scenes that had to be performed because they were in the play, not part of the play. Then again, maybe it just came off that way because of the time constraint.
Hopefully, for their next project, Palehorse Productions will find a venue where they have the luxury to relax and devote as much time to the material as they do to their “look” and give their actors a fair chance to act.