Review: ‘Othello’ with no-frills power

 Steven A. Wright as Othello in the Curio Theatre Company production. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Cassidy)

Steven A. Wright as Othello in the Curio Theatre Company production. (Photo courtesy of Kyle Cassidy)

In a small, bare playing space with the audience on three sides, Curio Theatre Company delivers a sizzling “Othello.” The only indulgence of stagecraft that the West Philadelphia company gives the production is Aetna Gallagher’s modest but spot-on costumes and then, when the plot’s about to go way south, ominous nighttime lighting by Tim Martin.

The rest is William Shakespeare, pure and simple, in this take on the gullible jealousy-drenched Moor and Iago, the manipulative phony who drives Othello to extremes against everyone who loves him.

The evening begins strong and keeps gathering momentum under Dan Hodge’s direction. Hodge, a versatile theater artist whose work ranges from adaptation to acting, directed “Othello” at daytime rehearsals while at night, he performed at the Walnut’s current main-stage show, “Private Lives.” Shakespeare in sunlight, Noël Coward by moon — a potent daily cycle.

It’s hard to find an “Othello” that can be funny at times, but Hodge gives the play many moods, all appropriate for their scenes. Then when the text moves to the point of natural rage, that’s what you get. In the end, this “Othello” has an emotional balance that most productions don’t consider.

Some of this, I suspect, has to do with the work of actor Matt Tallman, who doesn’t appear on stage but is listed on the program as “text coach.” If that means Tallman is responsible for the way Elizabethan English sounds in this “Othello,” then a text coach may be just the ticket for less accessible Shakespeare productions.

Othello is played by Steven A. Wright, who brings chops to the role with a touch of madness in his voice and movement as he convinces himself that his wife’s a cheat and a liar. The real liar, Iago, is created masterfully by Brian McCann, who gives the character a snake’s feel – his declarations of each new deceptive step in his plan to bring Othello down brought occasional gasps from the audience when I saw the opening-night performance Friday.

Add to this the beseeching work of Isa St. Clair as Othello’s pure and clueless wife, the feet-on-the-ground nature of Rachel Gluck as her maid, and the innocence that Eric Scotolati lends to the lieutenant caught up in Iago’s scheming, and you have a classic with everything in its place. Paul Kuhn, Steve Carpenter, Colleen Hughes and Bob Weick play the supporting roles on equal footing. This production of “Othello,” even with its standout performances of the major characters, comes off as a thoughtful ensemble piece.

 

 

“Othello,” produced by Curio Theatre Company, runs through March 14 at Curio’s home space in the Calvary Center for Culture and Community, 4740 Baltimore Avenue. 215-525-1350 or www.curiotheatre.org.

 

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