Saturday, August 7, 2021

OTHELLO • St. Louis Shakespeare Festival

Shakespeare, six actors, 24 parks and free admission? Oh, yeah. St. Louis Shakespeare Festival’s brand new regional touring initiative, “TourCo”, is bringing a 90-minute adaptation of Othello to 24 public parks across the bi-state area. The stops include each of the past nine neighborhoods featured in its Shakespeare in the Streets program, as well as spots from Clayton and Hermann, Missouri to Belleville and Brussels, Illinois. You can check out the full list by scrolling down a bit here.

These TourCo productions aim to bring Shakespeare to audiences who may not otherwise have access to it, while decoding the language, providing hints to themes and what to look out for, and zeroing in on context -- emphasizing the timeless nature of the Bard’s plays. 

Speaking of timeless nature, what happens when a black man marries an upper-class white woman and rouses the green-eyed monster in a friend? In Othello, the answer is... well, nothing good really. Jason J. Little is dashing as Othello, a Moorish general in the Venetian army and newlywed to Desdemona (Courtney Bailey), the daughter of a local politician. She has eloped with Othello against her father’s wishes. When one of Othello’s lower-ranking soldiers, an ensign named Iago (Charlie Barron), is skipped over for a promotion he loses to Cassio (Jesse Muñoz), he vows to slander Cassio and crush Othello, with a plot to convince him that Desdemona has been unfaithful. Barron is perfectly villainous as Iago. Consumed by jealousy, he stalks back and forth, vaping and manipulating from the sidelines, sowing doubt in everyone Othello trusts, while hurling racial insults behind his back. Hannah Geisz is great as Roderigo, Iago’s willing stooge who helps move the duplicity along. Jesse Muñoz is persuasive as a framed and tarnished Cassio, and Ricki Franklin is Emilia, Iago’s outspoken wife, unwitting to his plans until it’s too late. Bailey, noticeably at ease with Shakespeare’s verse, is convincing as Desdemona, who finds herself completely unable to understand her husband’s sudden, harsh suspicions, and Little’s unraveling is palpable, as Othello goes from a confident military insider in a loving relationship, to an alienated “other”, eventually spiraling to murderous rage.

Saturday, July 31, 2021

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS • Max & Louie Productions

Based on letters compiled and turned into a best-selling book by author Cheryl Strayed after her 2 year stint as an advice columnist for an online magazine, Tiny Beautiful Things proves a wonderful choice for St. Louis audiences longing to return to live theatre. 

Not long after a freelance writer and mother of two agrees to take over the advice column, “Dear Sugar”, her laptop starts to ding with incoming help seekers of all sorts. Whether it’s the indignity of a youngster being stuck with the uncool kids, or the indecision over trading in one lover for another, Sugar doles out advice that is clear-eyed -- the kind of attentive, candid guidance that can come from a stranger. More than once after hearing a letter, I thought to myself, “Ooo. Wonder how she’s gonna answer that one?” Light-hearted queries are sprinkled in among letters that deal with knottier subjects about love, loss, redemption and forgiveness. It’s these moments where Sugar recalls the mistakes and learned lessons from her own past with honest, relatable connections. These universal connections, elicited by strong performances, are the play’s biggest asset.