Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Shakespeare opening borders on comedy

Cleveland Press July 10, 1971

"Othello" opened the 10th season of the Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival last night in a production that offered great acting acting moments but which more often smacked of melodrama than tragedy.

There was tragedy inherent in the portrayal of Roger Robinson in the title role, sadness in Norma Joseph's Desdemona.

But Charles Berendt's Iago was a puzzler. It was a consistent performance, a clever one, a performance alive with nuances. Clearly it was one that pleased the audience.

IAGO SHOWS the face of candor and good humor to the world while he cleverly works his villainy. Berendt's performance accomplished this but there were moments when there was too much humor, when he seemed more mischievous than evil. He used a smile, a smirk. He nibbled at his finger, spoke asides to the audience with a smile that verged on laughter.

What he planned was chilling, but not the man. These were cold blooded deeds tossed off casually. In the end he was less a Machiavellian villain undone than he was a naughty boy who has been caught.

IT WAS an Iago who evoked laughter. But there many moments in the play when the audience laughed. As when Iago stabbed his own wife, fled and someone was sent in pursuit. The audience laughed. I can't put my finger on it, but obviously something has gone awry in a tragedy in which an audience laughs at bits that were not intended as comic relief.

The nature of tragedy is present in Robinson's Othello, a spilling over of passions as the consuming force of jealousy strips the veneer of gentility from him and he moves into an elemental, uncomprehending rage.

It was a total portrayal -- of voice and movement, of arms that were flung blindly to grab at something, anything.

IN THE SCENE in which he publicly insults Desdemona the rage is in check, but just barely, but what is in evidence is an uncompromising savagery.

Norma Joseph is an enchanting Desdemona with a performance that gets better as the personal confrontations grow more frequent. Her pleas in behalf of Cassio are winningly child-like in their earnestness, her charm seems almost enough to hold Othello and to nullify his suspicions.

Bruce Gray is a Cassio of stature, Judith Shogren convincingly loyal as Emilia and Brenda Bergskom in the brief role of Bianca packs it with sensuousness. Kermit Brown is a foppish Roderizo without being too ridiculous.

LAST NIGHT "Othello" was the triumph of villainy over gullibility and as such it lacked the moving passions and the grand sweep of tragedy.

What tragic moments there were were present in Robinson's performance.

Perhaps part of the problem with summer Shakespeare is too little time to put too much together. Othello's murder of Desdemona. for example, should have been a frightening scene but instead was just something that happened. Missing was a sureness and pace present elsewhere in the production, suggesting that with a few more performances this too will work.