Othello

Wes Babcock

 

Occupying one of the few youth slots at Ottawa Fringe, the ensemble cast at the Trinity Pit Stop Theatre Co. delivers a fun, steam-punky rendition of Shakespeare’s classic.

It starts with one of the most believable club scenes I’ve seen executed in Academic Hall, and features some competent performances by the leading actors Eze Leno, Ryan Downey, and Alex Fiallos (Othello, Iago, and Desdemona, respectively). There were times the significance of the line didn’t come through in its delivery, but this was overshadowed by great chemistry between the actors.

Downey especially, as he guided the audience through Iago’s duplicitous schemes, seemed to relish his own cleverness in a fun and believable manner. This is really important in any production of Othello, and Downey dealt commendably with a difficult role. His strongest scenes were those when he was on stage with Roderigo, with whom his chemistry was most evident and the audience had the pleasure of watching some seriously comedic timing.

In general, while not on the same level as some performers with more experience, the young cast did well, and show a lot of collective potential as they develop their ranges of skill and experience.

My disputes with the show are primarily directorial. First, the large set is visually interesting, but underutilized, serving primarily as a static platform for speech delivery. Considering that the company dispenses with traditional Elizabethan staging in the other parts of the space, I would have liked to see more use made of the platform as an acting area.

Technically, the lighting, while occasionally interesting and effective at setting the mood, is often quite dim. This made it hard to see for scenes at a time. The framing radio broadcasts also caused me some problems. I don’t think they’re effective as a means of putting the show in context as they presently exist. The sound clips contain a lot of allusions to things that happen outside the play’s story, and neither impact upon it particularly nor enhance our understanding of the actions or motivations of the characters.

These radio broadcasts are the main instances when the production moves away from Shakespeare’s original script, which is used effectively in a pared-down form to provide the rest of the dialogue. The cuts (necessary to perform anything Shakespearean in under an hour) are well chosen, and enable the production to remain remarkably faithful to the spirit of the original.

This is almost shocking considering the choice to set the play in a steam punk world on the brink of collapse. The costumes in this show were remarkably cool, and I’ve heard particularly appreciative reviews around the beer tent of the decision to keep Othello shirtless throughout the performance. My own favourite costume pieces are the hilariously giant monocle worn by the young man who stands on the stage-right riser near the play’s beginning, and Roderigo’s strange ‘robotic’ arm.

Go check out some of the future stars of the Ottawa theatre scene at their second and final performance next Saturday (14:00, Academic Hall).