Anemic, flat and static, Mary B. Robinson’s staging of “Othello” gives us little to look at and less to listen to. Campbell Scott’s Iago lacks brilliance of mind, Bruce A. Young’s Othello lacks greatness of heart, and nearly everyone else in the cast seems to be merely reading through the lines, leaving us without the thrill we anticipated.
Heartthrob Scott takes the first scene at such a breakneck pace that he is all but unintelligible; once he calms down, his Iago seems merely a perverse, irritating boy rather than Shakespeare’s most powerful and manipulative villain.
It’s all intensified by his playing the soliloquies for laughs directly to the house. He delivers character-delineating lines like “I think you think I love you” as mere conversation. The only interpretive gesture comes during his last scene with Desdemona (Kathleen McNenny), when he clearly desires her, but his weak laughter at the very end, after he is caught, is the laughter of a bad kid stopped by the police.
You couldn’t ask for a grander-looking Othello than Young: taller than everyone onstage, with shaven head and earring, massive in his African robe. Unhappily, neither his diction nor his voice convey the dignity or the resonance to make us believe that Desdemona — indeed, all of Venice — fell in love with his storytelling or to make us “devour up (his) discourse.” Each familiar line is merely read, a missed opportunity to create character.
The most peculiar choice is having Othello stab himself long before Shakespeare’s line and stage directions require it, pulling out the knife with “And smote him thus.”
McNenny provides a lovely strawberry blond counterpart to the Moor, but her reading of Desdemona provides neither blushing innocence nor hidden strength. And sadly, despite much smooching, there is no chemistry between her and Young.
As Emilia, Kate Skinner really lets it rip in the final confrontation, although her heavily inflected disbelief that Iago lied about Desdemona’s faithfulness makes you wonder who she’s been married to all this time. Matthew Rauch as Cassio and William Leach as Brabantio turn in solid performances, while Andrew Polk as Roderigo seems to be doing a Richard Simmons imitation, flouncing and weeping so that we don’t take him seriously enough to blame Iago for his victimization.
The stage is almost always bare, with some huge movable walls, messily painted, and studded fences that slide on and off willy-nilly. Everyone speaks from dead centerstage, and, when someone kneels, the person they’re addressing kneels, too, keeping all the blocking tidy to a degree. Not a single stage picture remains in the mind to reveal some hidden subtlety or truth. The underscoring is movie music, the costumes colorless, the disappointment considerable.