Actors in Elizabethan garb, framed by the bushes of the Narrows Botanical Garden, transported their audience literally as well as figuratively into the world of Othello, Shakespeares tale of love, jealousy and rage, in Act-Out! Productions performance of the classic play the fourth annual installment of the acting companys Shakespeare in the Park series.Indeed, the production, co-directed by John Stillwaggon and Carolyn Dellinger, was something of a moveable feast, as the transfixed audience, clutching folding chairs and blankets, followed the actors into various parts of the garden, where the different scenes in Venice, and then in Cyprus were set. The lack of a proscenium leading actors to intermingle with viewers on the gardens gently sloped lawns as they plotted, fought and interacted brought an immediacy to the production that can be lacking in a traditional theater setting. In the scene where the scheming, charming and totally amoral Iago (Stillwaggon) connives to get the honest but somewhat hapless Cassio (Michael Artzer) drunk, for instance, Cassio after toasting and clinking his cannikin, passes it to an audience member to hold before going on to his next bit of stage business. That got laughs, as did many of Iagos suggestive speeches, as he taunts and teases Othello (Mohammed Saad Ali) to a fever pitch of jealousy over his faithful and devoted wife, Desdemona (Dellinger), whom he is led to suspect by Iago is embroiled in a steamy affair with Cassio. It is a play loaded with double entendres, multiple meanings particularly in the speeches of Iago, whose words contrast so vividly with the sincere, and increasingly disturbed, speeches of Othello as Iago convinces him of his wifes infidelity. Even for those unfamiliar with the play, it was a true delight to listen to Shakespeares language expertly rendered, culminating in Othellos final speech, as he stands over the body of the woman he loves and has just strangled: Speak of one who loved not wisely but too well, of one whose hand, like the base Judean, threw a pearl away, richer than all his tribe. The sun had already set over the Narrows by that point in the production, with the ground littered with bodies (Othello and Iagos wife and Desdemonas servant, Emilia, played by Sara Minisquero, also die in the final scene), Iago led away, silent, to pay for his crimes, and the audience eager to come back, next year, for the next installment of Act-Out!s Shakespeare in the Park. There will be two more presentations of Othello, at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 26, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 27. The suggested donation of $10 goes to support Narrows Botanical Garden, in Shore Road Park at 72nd Street.
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