Intiman’s Othello: trust no one

I picked up a button at the Intiman Theatre’s Othello Friday night:

Trust No One

Silly motto for Othello: sure, don’t trust Iago…but do trust your own wife.

But it seemed curiously apropos in regard to Bart Sher. My wife and I subscribed for the last time to the Intiman this year, on the promise the Bart would direct this Othello. We figured he wasn’t long for this town – with so much Broadway success in musicals and an opera or two, he’s already moved his family back to New York – so we decided we’d catch another of his jaunty, but typically not very trenchant, Shakespeare productions one last time.

But no – Bart couldn’t be bothered. Sure, he retains the title of Artistic Director, and even prevailed upon the board to let him pick the next one – but after casting the lead roles, he let the Theatre for a New Audience, with Diane Arbus’s widower’s daughter helming the production, reprise their much praised New York production.

Alas, Bart’s actors weren’t up to the task. Iago spoke in some East European accent, raising questions from the first scene: how did he expect no one to recognize his voice while speaking from the shadows to taunt Desdemona’s father that the Moor was making the beast with two backs with her?

And the actor who played Othello was not only short on stature – the soul of his Othello seemed stunted too, so we never really understood why we should care he met such a tragic fate – he seemed so likely to meet one in any case, given the circumstances.

Othello hinges on whether the actors playing Iago and the title guy can pull off the continuous series of scenes that start with Othello in no doubt as to his wife’s fidelity, and end with him completely convinced she’s cuckolded him, kneeling to swear a perverse second marriage to revenge and Iago, his unlikely paramour in that passion. This production failed to convince. Oh sure, they went through the motions, and Othello at least was well spoken. But the audience remained skeptical, and nary a shocked sigh was heard as the curtain closed on intermission.

What a disappointment. I wish Bart all the best now that he’s finally made it back to New York after a decade spent in this stepping stone of a theater town. Seattle does too – people around here love the validation provided by having their more promising artists leave town and prove they can make it there, after making it in the anywhere we call here.

That’s why Seattle will remain an outpost of the national theatrical scene for the foreseeable future – suitable for tryouts and development projects, a kind of latter-day New Haven, but a true theater town – never, until it starts trusting no one, and hiring people who will stay for the duration, and make Seattle the place it does not quite dare to be at last.

But there’s the tragedy: it’s already too late. Even the actors are rarely local anymore. The Dust Bowl is here. It’s time to follow Bart to fresh woods and pastures new.

Let the last one leaving town turn out the lights – and then turn out the light.

Posted Tuesday, July 21st, 2009 under reviews.

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