A persistent drizzle Thursday night forced Shakespeare in Delaware Park to delay the premiere production of its anticipated season closer, "Othello," by a day.
And though not a drop of rain impeded Friday night's debut, storm clouds of a different sort gathered over Shakespeare Hill, raining down a torrent of rage, jealousy and downright fiendishness.
"Othello," having only been staged once before in the long history of the company, requires a perfect confluence of forces.
The title role, more than any other, requires a deeply commanding presence. The unconscionably villainous Iago must be portrayed by a master of duplicity. In this well-paced and moving production, director Saul Elkin has found that confluence in an admirable cast that does justice to one of Shakespeare's most heartbreaking and violent tragedies.
Elkin's out-of-town talent search for the title role yielded New York City-based Jolie Garrett, a capable and forceful actor whose first crack at the legendary Moor was brimming with pathos. Garret's booming voice and commanding presence contained all the furious anger and righteous jealousy that the role demands, though his light-speed and sometimes overeager delivery occasionally obscures some of his better lines.
It has long been said that "Othello" belongs to the character of Iago above all, and the serpentine Tim Newell did nothing to dispel that notion. Shakespeare gave this archvillain most of the juicy lines, and Newell's carefully nuanced and often playful Iago serves as the ever-charging engine behind the briskly paced production.
Newell employs all manner of subtle comic devices and shines
brightly in his exchanges with the ineffectual Roderigo (played by Peter Meachum, whose comically effective lips add needed levity to the show), whom he manipulates with great ease. When he speaks with Othello, Newell's eyes dart back and forth with a sort of half-guilty, half-evil light behind them.
This is especially effective in one of several back-and-forths between Iago and Othello in which they discuss the honesty of Othello's innocent wife, Desdemona. "Long live she so! And long live you to think so!" Iago says and then casts a subtly guilty eye toward the audience -- almost to the point of hamming it up but stopping just short.
Chirs Critelli, as Othello's noble lieutenant Cassio, delivers a flawless and moving performance, as does Rebecca Elkin, whose Desdemona is alternately soft-spoken and hysterical and falls perfectly between Jolie's power and Newell's duplicity.
Donna Massimo's costumes are universally gorgeous, from Desdemona's shimmering gowns to her Roman-inspired soldier uniforms.
As Iago says, the play is well-tuned at the start, but it's wonderfully captivating to watch as he "sets down the pegs" to produce a powerful sort of discord.
Drama presented by Shakespeare in Delaware Park through Aug. 19.
For more information, call 856-4533 or visit www.shakespeareindelaware