Though every production should be judged on its own merits, it’s impossible to not take into account other versions of the same play you may have seen in the past. If that other version came just a week ago, it’s even tougher.
Which brings me to my dilemma: Park Square Theatre’s production of “Othello” is a fine interpretation of the work, providing a clear vision of the text and unleashing several excellent performances along the way. It really only pales when compared to Ten Thousand Things’ current version, which has all of that, along with an intensity Park Square can never quite match.
Much of the Park Square production’s strength lies in Steve Hendrickson, who fluidly moves between the two faces of Iago as he unleashes his plan. In the audience asides, Hendrickson gives the character an unhinged quality, as if we are listening in to his mad internal dialogue. All of this connected with the audience, who at times laughed at the sheer audacity of Iago’s lies and, at the curtain call, gave Hendrickson a few good-natured boos for his performance.
As Othello, James A. Williams brings noble bearing and red-hot fury, showing the character’s transformation, if not all of his motivation. Stacia Rice plays a too-cool Desdemona, while Virginia Burke doesn’t connect nearly enough as Iago doomed wife, Emila. Edwin Strout makes the desperate suitor Roderigo a bit of comic relief (not surprising, considering Strout’s strong comic background), which makes his eventual violent turn all the more shocking.
Richard Cook keeps the action clear and direct, though the show begins to drag by the end of the second act — it seems to take forever for Othello’s final ruin to play out, stripping some of the power away from his final moments. The staging as a whole is strong, with excellent 19th-century-style costumes (Kalere A. Payton), a moody, castlelike set (Erik Paulson) and lighting (Michael P. Kittel) that perfectly fits the mood of the work.
There’s nothing wrong with this “Othello,” except that there’s another, stronger vision playing across the river in Minneapolis.
“Othello” runs through Nov. 8 at Park Square Theatre, 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul. Tickets are $15 to $40. For information and tickets, call 651-291-7005 or visit online.