by Lynn on February 7, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Monarch Tavern, 12 Clinton St., Toronto, Ont.

Written by William Shakespeare, of course.

Directed by James Wallis

Cast: Jeff Dingle

Jennifer Dzialoszynski

Dylan Evans

James Graham

Melanie Leon

Wilex Ly

David Mackett

Julia Nish-Lapidus

Catherine Rainville

Natasha Ramondino

E.B. Smith

A clear, energetic production that grabs the audience and never lets up until the heart-breaking conclusion.

The Story. Everybody knows the story, right? Othello, the Moor, celebrated for his leadership and diplomatic abilities, marries Desdemona, who is white. Racist attitudes arise. Iago, Othello’s ensign, is passed over for a promotion and that sets in motion Iago’s plan to get even and cause as much mischief as possible. Jealousy is a terrible thing, as Othello learns.

The Production. It’s to the credit of Shakespeare BASH’d, a spunky, feisty company if ever there was one, that the whole run was sold out before they opened. But as always, the producers have held back some tickets to be sold at the door, so come early and be patient.

The production takes place in the Monarch Tavern on Clinton St. The audience sits on either side of the playing area, drinks in hand, ready to engage. Up at one end is a raised stage with two panels of curtains that are held back revealing an area that could be a person’s house, or Othello (E.B. Smith) and Desdemona’s (Catherine Rainville) bedroom, or whatever director James Wallis wants it to be.

Much of the action happens in the long space between the two facing sections of the audience. Iago (James Graham) plays his nasty tricks on various characters, trying to convince Roderigo (Jeff Dingle) that Desdemona can be convinced that Roderigo is worthy of her—never-mind that she’s married to Othello. Iago nonchalantly plants the seeds of jealous doubt in Othello’s ear. in that space, and just casually walks away. Characters are either crossing up or down the space and someone has to waylay them. Occasionally actors would exit by the doors of the tavern and then appear instantly up stage making another entrance. This meant they had to go outside and race to the other door for their scene. All this action, carefully directed by James Wallis gives the production a sense of urgency that matters are spinning too quickly to stop.

When Othello enters he’s full of dignity, confidence but not swaggeringly so, because of the performance of E.B. Smith. Othello, as played by E.B. Smith is imposing, deep voiced but mainly soft-spoken. Othello doesn’t need to raise his voice to command attention. He does it with stillness, a direct stare, and a confidence that is not easy to shake. That makes his downfall into blinding jealousy all the more poignant.

Desdemona is no wimp. Othello calls her “his fair warrior”.  They are a perfect match. As Desdemona, Catherine Rainville is buoyant, proud of her marriage to this imposing man, supportive, caring and loving. When Othello shows his jealous streak she knows this is not like him. She is concerned but patient it will work out. Rainville is playful and confident when she tries to negotiate that Othello take back Cassio (Dylan Evans) into his books. Desdemona doesn’t know that evil forces in the person of Iago are at play.  As Iago, James Graham has that cold smile and manipulative way about him. He is raging with his own kind of jealousy and contempt for being passed over. What I miss from Graham’s performance is charm. It’s not just manipulation that is at play here, there has to be charm to draw people in to being duped. How else to explain why Emilia married him in the first place, if not for a charm to win her over.

James Wallis also has impish touches in his direction. Julia Nish-Lapidus plays not only the Duchess (changed from the Duke in the text) as well as a clown who is never without a large drink. Just before Act II is to begin, Nish-Lapidus as the Clown enters with a large inflatable chair that she has to inflate. She sits on that stage and blows and blows into the ‘spout’, looks exhausted but continues. When she is finished she puts on sunglasses and lays back on the chair until the Act begins. Humour is everywhere in Shakespeare, even when it ends badly for many characters. You just need a director like James Wallis with a sense of whimsy and adventure to realize those moments.

Comment. Shakespeare BASH’d is a company that produces consistently high quality work. There is nothing fancy about it. The costumes are rudimentary. The sets are almost non-existent. But the company’s commitment to being true to the spirit of the Bard’s plays is second to nobody. They are worth a trip to the Monarch Tavern to see what I’m talking about.

Shakespeare BASH’d presents:

Opened: Feb. 5, 2019.

Closes: Feb. 10, 2019.

Running Time: 3 hours approximate.

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