OTHELLO by William Shakespeare, directed by Michael Waller, with Andrew Moodie, Tova Smith, Richard Alan Campbell and Jane Moffat. Presented by Shakespeare in the Rough at Withrow Park (south of Danforth, between Logan and Carlaw). Runs to September 2, Thursday-Saturday 7 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday and holiday Mondays 2 pm. Pwyc, $10 suggested. 416-536-0916. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Framed between two willow trees, an ethereal Pre-Raphaelite beauty trills a Kyrie Eleison. It's magical -- for a moment. Then car horns, barking dogs and cavorting kids break the spell. It takes a lot to sustain enchantment when your stage is a public park. Unfortunately, Shakespeare in the Rough's production of Othello lacks the power to pull you in. It's weakened by hit-and-miss performances, imaginative but uneven staging and direction that's, well, rough.
Michael Waller makes good use of the background space, creating distant vignettes that evoke extra-textual scenes or suggest characters' internal thoughts.
At one moment, Othello and Desdemona form a flirtatious backdrop for Iago and Roderigo's vitriolic chat about the couple. Later, Othello, Desdemona, Cassio and Emilia present a far-off united front as evildoers scheme in the foreground.
And the idea of having Othello creep behind the crowd to spy on the unfolding action is a nice touch. But the constantly divided action and overlapping entrances and exits are distracting.
Andrew Moodie's too young and lacks the authoritative stage presence to convey the Moor's tragic descent into passionate rage.
A fine contemporary actor, he relies on a deadpan, half-muttered approach that drains words of meaning. His Othello's mad musings are casual asides, and his stoicism comes off as blasé.
At the other extreme, Kevin Hammond's annoyingly effeminate, simpering Roderigo is an exaggerated caricature.
There's some malevolence in Richard Alan Campbell's Iago, but Jane Moffat really stands out in the supporting role of his wife. Her Emilia is perfectly pitched, a brassy dame with a sparkling delivery. Moffat fleshes in a sketchy background character by infusing the dry iambic pentameter with life.
Her onstage magic is almost enough to make you forget the smell of dog doo in the air.