Tragic Moor

After a brief summer hiatus, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is back at the Water Stage with Othello, directed by D. Lance Marsh.

It’s not W. Jerome Stevenson’s first time playing the title role of the Moor for OSP. He’s fine, although the accent is a little annoying, making him hard to understand at times. Stevenson is one of our accomplished actors, and if you’ve never seen him as Othello, here’s your chance.

Othello is a highly regarded army commander in Venice. After a successful military campaign, he appoints Cassio his lieutenant. But Iago, another of Othello’s devoted soldiers, considers himself a real fighting man vastly superior to Cassio, whom he deems an egg-headed military tactician.

In promoting Cassio, Othello adds insult to Iago’s injury. Iago seeks revenge against Othello, Cassio and just about anyone else who’s within stabbing distance.

Othello is the paramount role, but the success of any production of the play depends on the actor playing Iago, one of Shakespeare’s most villainous villains. Kevin Asselin plays him as sort of a good-natured, if rowdy frat boy.

Because he doesn’t seem that menacing initially, Asselin’s Iago is far less effective later when he schemes to get Cassio (Bryant Belknap) into drunken trouble or when he swears (false) fidelity to Othello, who marvels — wrongly and tragically, it turns out — at Iago’s “exceeding honesty.” After watching Asselin, the audience may think, “Eh, Iago’s not so bad.”

Also, the production does not provide convincing evidence of Iago’s motivation. His behavior doesn’t fit the slight. Is he a psychopathic personality? Who knows? It’s a mystery why Marsh and Asselin choose to portray the character this way.

The third side of the tragic triangle is Othello’s wife, Desdemona, well played by the comely Sophie Moshofsky. Her Desdemona, who today would be a trophy wife, appears genuinely smitten with Othello.

Robert Pittenridge’s costumes are outstanding, as they have been all season.

So does Marsh bring a fresh perspective to the play, the way Michael Jones did earlier this summer for OSP with The Tempest? Not really. This is pretty much a paint-by-numbers production, which makes it a three-hour endurance test. Marsh’s saving grace is that he’s working with one of the great stories in English literature.

OSP leaders have committed to improving the quality of their productions. The company’s move to the Myriad Botanical Gardens is the best thing it ever did. The Water Stage is a beautiful and congenial setting, even with kids screaming in the adjacent park.

Larry Laneer

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