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An Emphasis on Color In an Elegant 'Othello'

REVIEW

OTHELLO. By William Shakespeare, directed by Frederic De Feis. Arena Players

Repertory Company at Suffolk Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Rd.,

Centerport. Seen at last Friday's performance. Continues through Sept. 1,

Wednesday through Friday, and Sunday evenings.

The stunning courtyard of the Vanderbilt Museum makes a dramatic setting

for the Arena Players Summer Shakespeare Festival's "Othello." With its

sweeping staircase and Spanish accent, it is elegant and exotic, just like the

production it now hosts.

Why exotic? Well, for starters, the Moor of Venice is now the Black of

Angola, and the actor playing him is currently, according to the production

notes, the "only" black Polish actor. Directed by Frederic De Feis, this

"Othello" sees its title character as a colonial naif from Portuguese Angola

used by the establishment in Lisbon for its own military ends. As played by

Omar Sangare, Othello is elegant, but it's the elegance of an outsider marked

by the color of his skin.

Sangare is the soul of this production. One wonders which came first, the

overall concept or his casting. It doesn't matter: The two fit together like

yin and yang. He is mesmerizing. His is a smiling Othello, whose amusement at

those around him may be a little patronizing but, at least initially, bears no

malice. He gives Othello the arrogance but also the insecurity of someone who

thinks he knows everything.

Sangare's Othello is very much the general, commanding the stage as he

would his legions. His body language is precise and majestic. One doesn't

always agree with his choices, but one admires the intensity with which he

makes them. He speaks his lines with an accent, which is sometimes at odds with

Shakespeare's meter, but underscores his implicit alienation as a dark-skinned

foreigner in a white society.

In the critical role of Iago, Stephen Wangner took a while to get

comfortable at the performance I saw, but by the end of the first act had

settled into a convincing and entertaining portrayal. Sangare's youth makes

Carolyn Popadin seem a bit old for Desdemona, and Christine Lobasso-Sullivan is

a young Emilia, but they both give excellent performances.

Director DeFeis' vision of Othello as a victim not only of his own pride

but also of a racist society comes through loud and clear. I think this would

have been equally true without the wholesale alteration of Shakespeare's

geography, which I found distracting. De Feis need not take his concept so

literally. His decision to change every reference to "the Moor" to "the Black"

is equally jarring, but more defensible. It drives home both Othello's color

and his dehumanization. Purists may object, but it accomplishes its goal.

If the sensual beauty of the courtyard of the Vanderbilt Museum on a summer

night is not enough to lure you to Centerport, let the charismatic intensity

of Omar Sangare as Othello do so. This is an intelligent interpretation of what

is arguably Shakespeare's most purely dramatic play.

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