Thursday, November 12, 2020

379. OTHELLO. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Moses Gunn, Roberta Maxwell.
OTHELLO [Dramatic Revival] A: William Shakespeare; D: Michael Kahn; S: Karl Eigsti; C: Jane Greenwood; L: John Gleason; M: Conrad Susa; P: Stratford Connecticut’s American Shakespeare Festival; T: ANTA Theatre; 9/14/70-9/26/70 (16)

This less-than-adequate, overlong revival of Shakespeare’s tragedy of the jealous Moor--originally produced at Connecticut's American Shakespeare Festival--was seriously undercut by a generally ineffective, if otherwise respected, cast led by Moses Gunn in the title role, with Lee Richardson as Iago and Roberta Maxwell as Desdemona. Gunn fared poorly in the press, Richardson a bit better, and Maxwell the best, despite a slam from John Simon.

Peter Thompson, Maureen Anderman.

Gunn’s Othello, to Simon, was “passing strange and wondrous pitiful,” for in the role he “never walks when he can skulk, shuffle, lope, or titubate. . . . [M]ost of the time he seems to be vocalizing not from a script but from a score.” Howard Thompson said Gunn gave “a touching but singularly ungripping portrait of agonized naivete. . . . Facially and with an exotic accent and a quivering voice that he uses like a tuning fork, Mr. Gunn conveys the despair and frustration of an explosive poet, not a strong man in hell. Further, the waving plasticity of his hands, underscoring every syllable, seals him off from the play—this man is a general—and the middling performances of the others.”

Thompson referred to the “mercurial but incredibly extroverted version of the wily Iago by Lee Richardson,” a performance Simon found “competent, even impressive,” while wondering if, however, it was Iago he was portraying. Using the same adjective as Thompson, he declared, “I am unstirred by an Iago who seems so extroverted, bluff, uncerebral, and who makes the greatest and blackest of villains merely gray.”

Lee Richardson, Jan Miner

On the other hand, Maxwell was “a lovely, asexual child,” thought Jerry Tallmer, and “the purest, most faithful, most obedient, sweetest Desdemona I’ve ever seen,” gushed Martin Gottfried. To Thompson, she was “a childlike wren,” but, like her colleagues, “sufficient but not striking,” while Simon came down hard: “She starts out as a kittenish Juliet, turns into a shrewish Kate (with overtones of Women’s Lib . . . ) and gets killed in a grisly bout of catch-as-catch-can. She sounds now like a querulous hoyden, now like a boy soprano whose voice is breaking, and always more like a senator’s charwoman than his daughter.” He also faulted her for not having the “stature and countenance” for tragedy, her shortness next to Othello combining with “her tomboyishness” to make her more like Othello’s “adopted child” than his wife.

Others involved were Peter Thompson as Cassio, John Tillinger as Roderigo (Simon thought “his interest in Desdemona a cover for his true craving to be mounted by Othello”), Jan Miner as Emilia, and Maureen Anderman as Bianca.