Stark raving jealous

By Tom Helma

Shadows and whispers torture ‘Othello’ at Dart Auditorium

Tuesday, July 31 — The American Shakespeare Collective brings a slimmed down, fiercely focused adaptation of “Othello” to Lansing Community College that fills the expansive Dart Auditorium stage with a mere six actors playing multiple roles. The troupe serves up a powerful, bare-bones take on the greatest somebody-done-somebody-wrong story in all of drama.

The naked, white-walled set is splashed with shadowy lighting. The actors are dressed all in black, with two notable exceptions. Desdemona wears a billowy meringue gown of brilliant, innocent whiteness. A scarlet sheet of evil envy covers arch-villain Iago — a metaphor for the possessiveness and paranoia that eventually wraps Othello into a murderous rage. This simple slippery silken garment is a seventh presence on the stage and increasingly ties Othello into knots of insecurity and suspicion.

Mark Colson portrays Iago as the most serpentine creep since Eve was confronted in the Garden of Eden. He is clearly the most intense and focused of the actors on the stage, talking in whispery, conspiratorial asides to the audience and to himself. We have all, I suspect, worn this cloak, and know from experience how it clouds and distorts our perspective, narrows our thinking, brings out the worst in us. “Othello” brings it all back.

A mighty challenge for actors in any Shakespearean play is getting one’s tongue around 400-year-old English and projecting it in a clear and conversational tone. Many Shakespeare enthusiasts might be so much in love with the language that the plot almost seems secondary, but the rest of us mere mortals expect the dialogue to sound natural as well. Colson pulls this off with apparent ease, as he speaks conspiratorially to the audience, and to himself, with a wide range of feelings and gestures.

Margaret Daly is equally versatile and nuanced in the three roles of Emilia, Bianca and the Duchess of Venice, She plays them with subtlety and grace equal to Colson’s.

Director Vincent Murphy has adapted this play with surgical care. The troupe of traveling actors is thoroughly professional, bringing their best New York city/Broadway game. Tommy Gomez’s Othello is truly a tortured soul, and it is painful to watch his descent into disintegration.

Christina Traister’s Desdemona is an incorruptible soul, maintaining her innocence with integrity and courage. Paul Hopper, in the multiple roles of Brabantio, Montano and Lodovico, and Adam Ehrlich as Cassio, imbue their smaller roles with clarity of speech and genuine passion.

American Shakespeare Collective
7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 2; 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 3; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 4; 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 (Sunday performance includes a post-show discussion with the cast)
The understudy cast performs at 7 p.m. Wed., Aug. 1
Dart Auditorium, Lansing Community College
$15 general seating; $12 seniors/students

(517) 372-0945