Energy packs 'Othello'

WINONA — The Great River Shakespeare Festival takes a holistic approach to the great bard.

Didn't particularly care for the play? Well then, you probably enjoyed the prelude concert in the grove of trees outside the theater. Certainly you enjoyed the wonderful summer weather and the grilled brats.

In other words, attending a play at the festival is a multi-faceted experience, which is good because the mere mention of "Othello," one of the current productions, is enough to keep many people away. "Othello," one of the most tragic of Shakespeare's tragedies, is notoriously long and bloody and is peopled with barely a few admirable characters. It all adds up to a good excuse to linger at the outdoor concert and avoid the play.

In this case, that would be a mistake. Yes, in the hands of the Great River Shakespeare company and director Alec Wild, "Othello" is still long and gory. But the troupe has also found a way to bring a fast-paced energy to "Othello," and to breathe suspense into the tale.

In this production, even the despicable "Honest Iago"' is halfway likable. Honest Abe he's not, but in a skillful portrait by Christopher Gerson, Iago is impish and boastful. He tells us exactly how he will twist and trick the dullards around him. He's so entertaining that there is a notable sagging of interest when Gerson's Iago exits the stage.


Iago's ultimate plan, of course, is to win the beautiful Desdemona for himself. To do this, he intends to make her war hero husband, Othello, jealous enough to wipe out other potential suitors of Desdemona while also sending Desdemona packing — ideally into the arms of Iago. Iago is already married, but that's a minor detail. Until, that is, his wife (Tarah Flanagan) shows uncommon loyalty to Desdemona.

Along the way, Iago spins the hapless Rodrigo (Andrew Carlson) in circles and sets up the noble Cassio (Doug Sholz-Carlson) as fall-guy.

One glimpse of Shanara Gabrielle's Desdemona and we see why men are willing to commit crimes for her. She appears perfect in beauty and character. More than that, Gabrielle has a wonderful ability to speak Shakespeare's lines as if in conversation rather than in recitation.

Others, including Corey Allen's booming-voiced Othello, are often burdened with the need to spit out long-winded and fiendishly complicated blocks of dialog.

For some, that is the attraction and genius of Shakespeare. For others, it's a good reason to enjoy the concert.

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