Aldo Billingslea commands the stage as Othello. In Marin Theatre Company’s new production of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Billingslea fully embodies the power, pathos and poetic sensitivity of the title role.
His towering performance is the reason to see the production – MTC’s first Shakespeare since 1978 – even though other aspects of Jasson Minadakis’ uneven staging seldom achieve the same level of resonance.
As the doomed Moor, Billingslea literally stands head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. Tall and muscular, his imposing physique makes him entirely credible, and gripping to watch, as the career general suddenly called into question for his secret marriage to the noble Desdemona.
Billingslea’s facility in Shakespeare’s text allows him to delve into the role with precision and unerring focus. As he defends his marriage – giving an eloquent description of the ways he wooed Desdemona - he proves a charismatic storyteller. Taking his troops into battle, he’s a confident leader.
Yet, as he falls prey to the seeds of jealousy planted by his lieutenant, the scheming Iago, that confidence – and his love for Desdemona – give way to distrust and murderous rage.
Elsewhere, this “Othello” is less assured. Minadakis and his design team – J.B. Wilson (sets), Kurt Landisman (lighting) and Chris Houston (sound) – give the play a handsome backdrop of shadowy stone facades and anguished music; the cast is clad in Fumiko Bielefeldt’s form-fitting leathers.
The director has made judicious cuts to the script, and the pacing is brisk and engaging. But some of his choices – having the women carrying swords and doubling as soldiers, for instance – undermine characterization. And the production often suffers from a disappointing lack of emotional heft.
Among the principals, Craig Marker is a curiously bland Iago. Marker’s a vigorous, articulate actor. But he misses the insinuating charm, and the requisite menace, that distinguishes great Iagos.
Mairin Lee’s lightweight Desdemona is one-dimensional. Bay Area stalwarts Nicholas Pelczar (Rodorigo) and Dan Hiatt (Brabantio) give vibrant performances in key moments, and Liz Sklar, although she delivers Aemelia’s initial line readings in a monotone, comes alive with outrage in her final scene. But Patrick Russell’s Cassio, Khris Lewin’s Lodovico and Rinabeth Apostol’s Bianca emerge undistinguished.
Better casting might have made this a more compelling “Othello.” Still, Billingslea is consistently impressive. As he strides the stage, sounding the depths of his tragic fall, his performance yields its own rewards.
Where: Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays-Saturdays; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes April 22
Tickets: $34 to $55
Contact: (415) 388-5208, www.marintheatre.org