Sunday, May 3, 2009

Othello Staged Reading

By Russ Bickerstaff
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A free reading of Shakespeare by professional actors (a few of them union professionals) is going to attract a large audience. When my wife and I arrived at the Live Artists Have To Eat Studio, we weren’t surprised. It was packed. Lying somewhere between the Third Ward and the southern end of the theatre district, the Live Artists Studio is a trendy-looking studio space complete with bar. Seats filled the main gallery space. By the time that the actors walked-in, only a few open seats could be seen.

This was to be a reading of Othello by a group of actors associated with the now defunct Milwaukee Shakespeare. Former artistic director Paula Suozzi introduced things and issued a plug for donations. Evidently the remains of the group are trying to continue to put on high-end Shakespeare in Milwaukee in the absence of Milwaukee Shakespeare. Currently things are in disarray, but an organizational structure should present itself soon and we may end up with a couple of extras Shakespeare productions a year . . .

The physical reality of the Live Artists Have to Eat Studio started to settle-in once Paula Suozzi had finished introductions and the reading commenced. With a huge number of people in a small space that had no palpable air conditioning, things got kind of hot. The air felt stagnant as well . . . in the course of the reading I nearly passed-out a couple of times. Physically, it was an excessively uncomfortable performance.

All fears that this was merely a fundraiser for future productions faded as the reading commenced. Bereft of all the production elements that would accompany a performance, the power of Shakespeare’s drama comes through startlingly clear.


Wayne T. Carr’s performance travels quite a distance from beginning to end. He’s charismatic and in control until Iago (Mark H. Dold) starts interfering with things. Othello's fall from power through loss of self-control is spectacular even without the physical action that would normally bring across the multiple homicides that end the play. The tragedy is still remarkably vivid. Playing a tragic hero is an emotionally intensive task and Carr did an excellent job of bringing across the emotion . . . even tearing-up at one point opening night. I don’t imagine it’d be that difficult for a trained actor to do that for a staged reading, but it would be very difficult for anyone to get there without feeling some of the full emotional impact of the tragedy.

 


And Mark H. Dolld was impressive too—an acutely angular face peering out at the audience . . . engaging in sinister soliloquy while piercing eyes regard everything. He's cold. He's calculating. Dold, whose face appears to have been painstakingly sculpted by someone with a deep appreciation of art deco, makes for a perfect Shakespearian villain. He’s got a brilliantly studied grasp of nuance and subtlety—and more important than that, he seems to have a genuine sense of humor. A quick search for Dold online reveals this picture on his Facebook page:



And then there’s the resume—this guy’s played four different characters on three different flavors of Law & Order and had a recurring character on a few on a dozen episodes of All My Children. . .

The staged reading may not have been comfortable, but it shows that the work itself has a power that doesn’t necessarily need big production values . . . granted, if you want performances by professional actors who have shown-up on Law and Order, you’re going to be shelling out some serious money, but Shakespeare has the kind of inherent appeal that doesn’t need the kind of budget Milwaukee Shakespeare used to have.

As stated before by other people in local theatre, a Milwaukee Shakespeare group really needs to be a Milwaukee Shakespeare group . . . it needs to start small and grow before it can have the kind of money that would fund a world-class budget. Until then, local audiences can settle for emotional moving performances in small spaces that are a lot closer to the soul of theatre than some huge touring production at the Marcus Center.

Just find a well-ventilated space with better air conditioning. That’s all I’m saying . . .

Othello was a on-weekend-only thing. For more info about post-Milwaukee Shakespeare, visit them online.

The next big Shakespeare event in Milwaukee is Quasi Theatre's Production of Henry V, which opens at the end of the month at Marquette University's Helfaer Theatre.

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