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A CurtainUp NJ Review
The title of this posthumously produced play by Louisiana-born James McLure (1951 - 2011) has pretention and artifice written all over it. One of the most famous of all the villains in Shakespeare's canon, Iago's dastardly machinations to destroy his master the Moor Othello by compromising his bride Desdemona are as legendary as they rife for speculation. But it is not Iago's darkly mischievous motives but rather those of the actor playing him that are brought to the fore in this ungainly, unfunny and recently uncovered play by the author of the more conventionally constructed Lone Star, Pvt. Wars and Laundry and Bourban. Iago is what is commonly referred to in the industry as a trunk play, that is one that has never been fully produced and, with all due respect for the attention given it by the New Jersey Repertory Company, needs to be put back and padlocked as soon as possible.
The play is set between 1947 and 1957 with the action occurring during the mostly chaotic rehearsal period of a production of Othello and its aftermath somewhere in the U.K. While it lasts, our attention is focused on the petty feuding and the petulant fussing between a married theatrical couple and a scheming actor, a ménage a trois of sorts, that threatens to destroy the marriage even as it threatens to decimate the play they are rehearsing.
Savvy audiences will certainly see shades of Jean Anouilh's play-within-a-play satire The Rehearsal. They'll also be reminded of the the then married Laurence Olivier and Vivian Leigh in the arch, high toned acting style that is being issued here by Ezra Barnes, as Anthony Roland as Othello, Liza Vann as his wife Vivacty as Desdemona, and also Todd Gearhart as romantic interloper Peter Finney as Iago (apologies to Larry and Viv.) But these three cannot hope to compete with the egregiously over-the-top scenery chewing by John FitzGibbon as Sir Basil Drill as the play's incredulously indulgent director.
There are hints of a satire in the making as the good-looking, ever posturing Peter begins, to affix a giddily homosexual aspect to his interpretation of Iago. There's some fun in watching him brazenly go about seducing the Peter-besotted Vivacity to Anthony's consternation and dismay. Aspects of Noel Coward's Design for Living can be seen in the two men being as conspicuously interested in each other as they are with the woman in question. The lame dialogue, however, doesn't have the wit to support or sustain this conceit.
The superficial chatter that bridges the scenes in which Shakespeare's intense prose is tortured suddenly turns toward the maudlin as Vivacity tragically devolves both mentally and physically for reasons that are beyond anything the play makes clear. The play is constructed as a series of quick black-out skits generally not lasting any longer than two or three minutes before the stage hands are busy shuffling about the few pieces of furniture for change of venue.
SuzAnne Barabas has directed with a determined finesse what has to be described as less of a find than a fiasco. What this play really needs is a final resting place. The complexity of the staging also makes this a doubtful bet for even the most adventurous regional theaters.
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by James McClure
Directed by SuzAnne Barabas
Cast: Ezra Barnes (Anthony Roland), John Fitzgibbon (Sir Basil Drill), Todd Gearhart (Peter Finney), Liza Vann (Vivacity Wilkes)
Stage Manager: Jennifer Tardibuono
Scenic Design: Charles Corcoran
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Sound Design: Merek Royce Press
Wigs: Daniel Koye
Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J.
(732) - 229 - 3166
Performances: Thursdays through Sundays at 8 pm
From 08/26/16 Opened 08/27 Ends 09/25/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 08/27/16
NJ Theatre Alliance
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