I have to say, right of the bat, that I absolutely loved The Porters of Hellsgate’s production of Othello.
Othello is a tough play. I know that The Porters of Hellsgate have vowed to produce everything the bard wrote, and I can tell they were keen to take this on, but it’s a BIG play, easily rushed through and often under produced in my opinion. They took this on boldly, which is the best way to tackle this particular beast. And the result was really terrific.
The choice to set the play in the twenties was pretty inspired I thought, and gave reason for the sublime jazz songs intermingled with the scenes.
I also thought the simple scenery was really well imagined. The use of wooden crates and panels as furniture ultimately making up the bed on which Othello kills Desdemona was really brilliant, especially as the actors themselves moved it all around. Their words built the story as their hands built and rebuilt the set….for me this was really effective and really drew the audience deeper and deeper into the play.
And so to the performances, well, what can I say??!
CHARLES PASTERNAK as Iago was really astonishing. This play is really belongs to Iago, and just the sheer size of the role is enough to sober most men, the weight of the performance is immense. Iago must convince us that he is wicked and at the same time that he can seem completely the opposite to everyone else, including his wife.
Sure the language is there, but without the kind of actor that can easily slip between good and evil the whole purpose of the play is lost. “Honest Iago” must shine with goodness and glint with evil….Charles Pasternak does just this and with such a deep command of the language as I have ever seen. He owns the stage and plays the role with no regrets…right to the very end.
Matt Calloway as Othello, although younger than most I have seen tackling this complicated role, plays Othello sweet and strong. We can all see why Desdemona falls so completely for him, he is handsome and gentle and as he becomes enraged we see that handsome turn to ugly and that gentle turn to violent organically and quite beautifully. There is a warmth and lightness to Matt’s Othello, and then a chilling darkness. His transformation is so obvious, that those around him seem confused and undone by it, which perfectly allows his jealousy to rage…really excellent.
Eliza Kiss’s Desdemona is so perfectly resolute in her love and in her grace that we can understand why she believes right up until the very end, that her husband could never hurt her….but that’s what makes this work so well. Don’t we all ask ourselves over and over again when trying to understand domestic violence, “why don’t they just leave?” Without oversimplifying a complicated subject, love is why. Eliza’s Desdemona is calm and graceful and the personification of love, I really felt her connection to Othello, really wonderful work.
Other standouts were Gus Krieger as Roderigo, a hilarious and affectionate portrayal of this ridiculous man. Alex Parker as Cassio, a slightly goofy, tragic and twisted fellow, brilliantly and subletly played by Alex. Hilary J Schwartz’s Emilia was great too. Its a tricky role, when the audience wonders why she can’t see what her husband is up to, and why, when it’s clear she loves Desdemona she doesn’t do more. But we have no doubt where her loyalty lies once the deed is done and she turns her husband well and truly in.
In truth there were no lines or roles thrown away in this production. Everyone was completely present and fully committed and the play fell and rose on the performances of every actor, it really was a joy to watch.
A special mention for Christine Sage as Bianca, who was lovely and sang beautifully too, and to Brent Christensen as Brabantio, who gave a desperate and rollicking, Shakespearean performance as Desdemona’s father. Also to the Director Thomas Bigley for a bold play, fiercely directed, with the lovely juxtaposition of the soulful, heart wrenching music. And also, Sterling Hall did a wonderful job with the lighting, really enriching the performances and Jessica Pasternak whose gorgeous costumes really pulled the Jazz era theme together.
The night I attended the heavens opened and we had a huge rain storm, which, apart from making me run, which is something I loath to do, had the amazing effect of creating a soft drumming on the roof of the theatre, which I thought rather added to the tension and to the drama, so thank you rain gods for that!
I thoroughly recommend this production of Othello. Othello is playing at The Whitmore Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd, North Hollywood, CA 91601.
February 28th - March 28th. Friday, Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7pm.
Tickets are $20
Othello - Matt Calloway, Desdemona - Eliza Kiss, Iago - Charles Pasternak. Emilia - Hilary J Schwartz, Cassio - Alex Parker, Roderigo - Gus Krieger, Bianca - Christine Sage, Brabantio - Brent Christensen, Lodovico - Kipp Moorman, Gratiano - Sean Faye, Duke of Venice - Jacques Freydont, Montano - Evan Isaac Lipkin, Clown - Thomas Bigley, Singer - Christine Sage, Ensamble - Michael Bigley & Kyle Nash.
Director- Thomas Bigley, Costume Designer - Jessica Pasternak, Lighting Design - Sterling Hall, Set Design - Thomas Bigley, Sound Design - Nick Neidorf, Fight Choreography - Charles Pasternak, Set Construction - Donald Jarman, Alex Parker, Thomas Bigley. Board Operator - Alicia Patterson, Graphic Design - Joe Chang, Handkerchief Design - Cynthia Beckert. Stage Manager - Alicia Patterson, House Manager - Jessica Pasternak.