The passions of jealousy, rage and lust are driven by the beat of tribal drums in Modesto Junior College's new staging of Shakespeare's tragedy "Othello."
Onstage drummers pound their instruments throughout the show in director Michael Lynch's production sometimes loudly, sometimes softly. They keep the tension up and force the audience to listen more closely to some key dialogue, but the drums sometimes overpower the actors, making it hard to follow what's going on. This seems to be a case of a good idea taken too far.
There is plenty of drama inherent in the story-line without this added distraction. This is an extremely difficult play that requires the student actors to stretch their skills and bare their emotions.
The play centers on an interracial marriage between a black general and his white wife that is destroyed by the general's envious underling. After the underling makes suggestions that the wife may be unfaithful, the general quickly becomes consumed by rage.
Lynch sets the play mainly at night with a large full moon positioned in the sky. All the action takes place on Ty Van Helton's impressive scaffolding that includes stairs and a bridge.
Jelani Brown, who stars in the title role, makes a striking impression as he enters in his richly colored African robes (provided by costume designer Anne Shanto). His Othello is a good man who truly loves his wife, Desdemona, and wants to do the right thing. He believes the vicious accusations made by his ensign Iago because he thinks Iago is an honest man.
Brown shines brightest in the beginning of the show when he is still in love with Desdemona but struggles when he has to show anger and pain. He has a hard time enunciating his lines and occasionally mumbles.
Jon Cates' Iago is methodical and controlled in the way he plants doubts in Othello's mind. As opposed to Othello, Iago shows little emotion and demonstrates an intense focus on his goal of ruining Othello's life. Cates appears confident and in command whenever he is on stage.
As Desdemona, Corrine Bryant is good at playing sweet and innocent but has a more difficult time showing sadness and fear. The female star of the show is Rachel Anne Pearre as her attendant and Iago's wife, Emilia. Her final scene, in which she angrily confronts her conniving husband and Othello, is one of the highlights of the production.
Jerris Ramirez is charming as Cassio, who is falsely accused of having an affair with Desdemona, but he overplays his drunk scene. He is so wobbly, it is hard to believe he could beat anybody in a fight, much less one day take command from Othello. Justin R. Alvarez offers comic relief as Rodrigo, a former suitor who was rejected by Desdemona.
A large supporting cast plays townspeople, beggars, prostitutes and soldiers, filling out a colorful scene in the main setting of Cyprus. At one point, they sing a drinking song.
The student actors make a good effort and demonstrate that they worked hard on the play, but the challenges of this Shakespeare tragedy seem a little beyond them at least for now.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan Renner can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2313.
RATING: * * 1/2
WHERE: Modesto Junior College main auditorium, 435 College Ave.
WHEN: 2 p.m. today, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 26 and 27, and 2 p.m. Oct. 28
RUNNING TIME: two hours 40 minutes, including an intermission
|575-6776 or www.mjc.tix.com|
* * * * Excellent; * * * Good; * * Fair; * Poor