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Get Out Your Handkerchief: "Othello," at the Rock Island Masonic Temple through October 20 PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 17 October 2007 10:22

Julian C. Jarrell in OthelloI've seen three or four first-rate portrayals of Shakespeare's Othello over the years, and I always marvel at how both the character and the performer seem to literally grow in stature through the course of the play.

The bard's boastful, lusty Moor is, of course, larger than life from the start. But after the duplicitous Iago instigates the jealousies that will eventually destroy nearly everyone in the piece, Othello's suspicion and heartbreak and rage appear to alter him physically as well as psychologically; bellowing gloriously intimidating tirades, you'd think that anger and distrust added 10 inches to the Venetian's height. (No matter the performer's actual size, it makes perfect sense when other characters shrink from him.) When you're watching a fully committed Othello, the actor's emotions are likely to be so expansive that they seem to take up more stage space than his frame allows.

This is not, however, what happens with Julian C. Jarrell in the Prenzie Players' current production of Othello, as the actor does something far trickier than expand his presence to match the character's mental state: He contracts it. This is the first Othello I've seen who, once he becomes convinced of his wife's infidelity, appears to shrink from the knowledge; his body hunched and twisted, as if his internally directed anger was causing him to collapse from within, this Othello's jealousy eats away at him until there's nothing left but a shell of his previously assured, unconflicted self.

And astonishingly, Jarrell manages to suggest Othello's moral decay without lessening the impact of Shakespeare's poetry or coming off as any less frightening or pitiable than he's intended to be; the actor trades grand emotions for life-sized, intensely specific ones that are tragic and terrifying for being so recognizable. (Jarrell projects the mortifying fear of being unworthy of the person you love.) Jarrell's virulent outbursts here are affecting because they underline that Othello isn't driven mad by Iago's machinations, but by his own insecurities. Iago gives him a push; Othello's fall is his own doing.

Put simply, Jarrell - whose perfectly calibrated vocal rhythms continually enwrap his dialogue in a firm embrace - is absolutely remarkable in this Othello, and his work proves emblematic of the entire production; barring a few theatrical flourishes, it's a surprisingly intimate, unaffectedly down-to-earth presentation of a Shakespeare tragedy known for its thrillingly outsize emotionalism. (Even the casting adds to its intimate nature; although Prenzie Players productions always find actors playing numerous roles, I never thought I'd see a successful take on Othello performed by an ensemble of 10.

Julian C. Jarrell in OthelloDirected by Cait Bodenbender and - as ever with the Prenzies - "the cast," there's hardly a dearth of exuberant, memorably staged sequences: the tumultuous rainstorm that opens Act II; the soldiers' joyously drunken revelry (with kudos to Jeff De Leon and Matt Moody for imbibing entire bottles of "ale" in one shot); the nerve-racking knife fight between De Leon's Cassio and Andy Koski's Roderigo, with the scene's darkness split by the laser light emanating from a nearby sniper rifle.

But for sheer impact, even these hugely satisfying bits pale next to the ones that thrill via their horrible insinuation - Othello and Iago (Aaron E. Sullivan), on their knees, inching together and grasping hands in a perverse parody of a betrothal; Othello strangling Desdemona (Maggie Woolley), their writhing bodies suggesting their final act of consummation. In Othello, the Prenzies - who have never shied away from eroticism in their productions - frequently link sexuality with betrayal and death, yet while you may feel shaken by the results, the performers' beautiful humanity keeps you from ever feeling alienated.

Temperamentally, Sullivan is Jarrell's polar opposite here - his Iago grows calmer and (seemingly) more rational as Othello descends into madness - and it proves to be an outstanding piece of casting. At first, you may think that Sullivan is underplaying to the point of vanishing; his vengeful plan for Othello seems to arise less from spite and envy than for want of anything better to do. (Nerves may have played their part in Friday's opening-night performance; Sullivan stumbled over quite a few lines and occasionally jumped his cues by several sentences.) As Iago's wickedness escalates, though, Sullivan's earnestness in the role grows more and more sinister. The actor never telegraphs Iago's hatefulness, and the character becomes all the more horrifying for his blasé indifference - he's like the quiet guy that no one believed could be a serial killer because he always seemed like such a nice young man. (Was it Groucho Marx who said, "If you can fake sincerity, you can fake anything"?)

What you miss in overt theatricality is made up for with shrewdly grounded realism, yet this quality is hardly limited to Sullivan's portrayal. Woolley is an extraordinarily poised, touching Desdemona whose delicacy becomes achingly heart-wrenching; her soft, tender singing before retiring to bed suggests someone who knows instinctively that death is near. De Leon's greatness here lies in how simply he achieves his effects - he plays Cassio as a bit of a prick, but a fundamentally decent man with a strong sense of personal worth and a sharp sense of humor - and Stephanie S. Burrough (a Reader employee) delivers a marvelously no-nonsense turn as Emila; the two perform with ceaseless honesty.

Koski, bless his heart, provides the majority of Othello's laugh-out-loud moments - his Roderigo is charmingly slow-witted - and Moody, Jeremy Mahr (with that richly expressive voice that inspires utter confidence), John Turner, and Beth Woolley play a series of roles with great gusto. (Beth is currently working at the Reader as an intern. Obviously, we're not gonna rest until we've taken on all the Prenzies.) Othello offers all these spectacular, and happily familiar, talents, plus the considerable benefit of Julian C. Jarrell in his first Prenzie Players role. Please please please let it not be his last.

 

For more information, visit (http://www.prenzieplayers.com).

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written by Anonymous, October 17, 2007
Every time I view a Prenzie show I notice a certain theme--the SAME actors in each play. Is the QC so empty of talent, so unworthy to be cast in a Prenzie Players show? Maggie Wooley played Desdemona because her sister is the director. Surprise, surprise. Although Aaron Sullivan was outstanding as Iago, I could name other actors who would portray Shakespeare's greatest villian just as well. If this is something that they will continue, they will not find many actors at auditions. Why go if you are wasting your time? Audiences like to see fresh faces at different theaters. The Prenzie Players days are numbered if they continue on their present path.
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written by anonymous, October 17, 2007
Maybe Maggie Woolley (with 2 L's) played Desdemona because she is a talented actress. And I don't mean maybe. She IS a talented actress.
Tracy Skaggs
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written by Tracy Skaggs, October 18, 2007
First, in the interest of full disclosure, I am a founding member of Prenzie Players and have been involved in one way or another in all the productions.

The fact that there are siblings in this production is correct. There have been in many of our previous productions as well. It is incorrect, however, that Ms. Woolley was cast as a result of nepotism. Prenzie auditions are, and have been, sparsely attended. The director casts the actor best suited to the role and the (grievous) rehearsal schedule. Additionally, it appears that "anonymous" forgets it is not unusual for theater companies be they professional, community, or Shakespeare's own, to have a core of talent who are enlisted in many productions.
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written by M.C., October 18, 2007
If I'm not mistaken, Maggie Woolley had just finished a great run in Richmond Hill's "Arcadia" prior to her being in "Othello," & upon further review of the program, I did not see any of her relatives listed on the directorial staff or in the cast list.

So I'm going to guess that Jennifer Kingry (the director) must've given her the role based on her talent & the fact that she best fit the role.....which was, I'm going to venture, a similar case in the casting of "Othello."

I have seen this production of "Othello" and Ms. Woolley's performance is well deserving of the praise mentioned in the above review (and I'm sure that praise will continue with other publications' reviews as well) as is the rest of the talented cast.

You claim, "Although Aaron Sullivan was outstanding as Iago, I could name other actors who would portray Shakespeare's greatest villian just as well." Did any of those actors even bother to show up at the auditions?

If the original poster of this comment is that upset that they weren't cast in a show (be it a Prenzie Players show or with another theatre), then they shouldn't be auditioning for anything in the first place. You get rejected more than cast in the audition process - it's just an inarguable fact & the nature of the business - & if all you're taking away from that is being bitter (&, subsequently, anonymously taking pot-shots at a talented actor/actress) rather than motivating yourself to better your craft & trying again, then you should probably spend your creative energies in a field other than theatre.

As for the claim that, "Audiences like to see fresh faces," and that, "The Prenzie Players days are numbered," - now I may be mistaken here, but I've been attending Prenzie Players shows for a few years now and I believe that attendances have been steadily increasing each passing year for their performances (off the top of my head, I can recall friends of mine being turned away at the door due to sold out houses during last year's stellar run of The Henriad). If it is the, "SAME actors in each play," then they sure do an amazing job to continually sell-out houses and keep people coming back. It's actually rather inspiring seeing a core group of actors commit themselves so fully from one difficult show to another and seeing them as individual actors & actresses make such believable choices from one character in one show to another character in a different show. I've yet to see a negative review for any of their performances.

In closing, it's undeniable that this troupe offers unique & accessible interpretations on the often difficult-to-understand language of Shakespeare that is sorely needed in our community and no one else in the area currently provides. I also know for a fact that some local colleges have made their shows required viewing for their respective theatre programs.

Quite the contrary, anonymous - I think the future looks very promising for the troupe.
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written by Molly, October 18, 2007
I agree with the other three posters, Prenzie is an outstanding theater troupe. I am friends with many of them, and I know how hard they work to deliver quality shows time and time again. Sullivan is one of the most talented actors I have seen in a long time, and Woolley is right up there with him. Might want to get your facts straight, anonymous, before you start bashing a fine organization. The Prenzie Players are more popular than they ever have been.
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written by Ally, October 18, 2007
What is it with anonymous pricks bashing the hardworking, talented artists in this community? Get your S**T together and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Hurrah to my dear friends at Prenzie for such a wonderful show!
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written by Cait Bodenbender, October 18, 2007
I’m glad for the chance to address the comments made by the first poster.

It’s true that a number of the members of the first Prenzie Players cast are still performing with us. It’s also true that many of the people who were cast in later productions continue to audition for us and are often cast again. But it’s the new faces that appear at our auditions that keep our shows vital.

Every Prenzie cast has included someone that has never been in one of our shows. Some shows have a number of new folks, some have only one. Last season began with a number of new-to-Prenzie actors, but because the season was through-cast, we had fewer and fewer roles to offer at auditions. Still, every production of the Henriad had at least one “fresh face.”

Without those new faces, Prenzie would already have folded in upon itself. Our rehearsal process relies heavily on the creative impulses of the actors. Their talents and personalities shape the director’s vision of the characters they are playing and the production in general. New actors mean new energy, new ideas, and new abilities. Even the most stable ensembles need new blood, and we are no different.

So, please, don’t be afraid of auditioning for Prenzie Players. We’re presenting The Taming of the Shrew (by William Shakespeare) this Winter and Pedro Calderon’s Life is a Dream in the Spring. Actors cast in one of these shows won’t be able to participate in the other, so we need lots of folks to audition. I’m not directing either production, so you don’t have to worry about me casting any of my family members.

Cait Bodenbender
Artistic Director
Prenzie Players
yours
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written by yours, October 19, 2007
ally, you've *got* to get this through your head... the anonymous posters (yes, there were more than one) on your blog were criticizing your self-centered grandiose nature, and your bashing of the caliber of the Quad Cities' music community. This whole knee-jerk "if person A criticizes my acerbic rant on how great I am at giving singing lessons and how everyone else sucks, person A must have low self esteem!" is ridiculously off-base and not very astute. come on! - you actually wrote "...I know this for a fact, not a single person in the QC can do what I do."

now then.
go prenzie! i'd see jeremy mahr in 52 productions a year. i heartily disagree with comment #1.
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written by not anonymous, October 19, 2007
hmm... why would anyone claim to have a monopoly on any one thing in any give town. how can anyone know "not a single person in the QC can do what I do?" the quad cities is full of talent! (as proven by all the shows running last weekend.... and many other shows i've seen) who are you talking about YOURS? i'd love to check that blog out.... who's ally and why is she claiming to be almighty? that can only set one up for a mighty fall. just curious as to who is making these grandiose statements and where.

congrats to prenzie's success... it looks the q.c. theatre is expanding nicely in downtown rock island with the green room theatre and prenzie players... not to mention circa/ comedy sportz/ and my verona (if that is still happening).
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written by Jennifer Kingry, October 20, 2007
Wow...go offline for a couple of days and look at all you miss! Far better defenders than myself have spoken up for Prenzie, but, since my name was invoked in one of these postings, I thought I'd add my own.

As the first poster mentioned, Prenzie Players productions do tend to utilize a core group of players. Likewise, you will see certain faces reappear, season after season, at Playcrafters, at Richmond Hill, at Music Guild, at New Ground, at Genesius Guild, and virtually every other local theater group.

If Prenzie pulls from a smaller central unit to begin with, this may be largely due to the fact that they are a relatively new organization. Every Prenzie show I've seen had at least one or two new faces. In the current show, a new actor to them is appearing in the title role. For a new and smallish group (as compared to something like Music Guild's membership) they have a pretty decent batting average for incorporating new talent. Jeremy Mahr was not with Prenzie at their inception; at one point, he was a new face. Because he is a tremendously talented actor who found a group of people he likes to work with--and who like to work with him--I suppose he could now be considered an established face (an old face?) with Prenzie. Does that mean they should use him less? I hardly think so.

Again, knowing Prenzie was started not-too-many years ago by a small group of talented friends with a particular vision of live theater, a like-minded aesthetic, and a strong sense of commitment, it's not too difficult to grasp that their growth will very likely be slow, as they seek out or are discovered by others who share their values. And not everyone is going to be able to handle the arduous nature of a Prenzie rehearsal schedule (or, as Tracy called it, "grievous"!)

Another reason for "repeat faces" at Prenzie shows is their habit of double- triple- and even quadruple-casting small roles. This practice certainly lends itself to a more satisfying acting experience for the players themselves; even without playing a lead or even a major role, each member of a production will be challenged to create multiple characters. Limiting cast size and keeping all cast members deeply involved helps to foster a powerful esprit de corps.

Regarding the first poster's statement: Audiences like to see fresh faces...quite honestly, I'm not so sure that's strictly true. My own experience is that audiences generally like to see good theater, and whether the faces are new or not is of little consequence.

One of the things Prenzie Players do so marvelously well (among many things) is to reinvent themselves with each production and each character. If they were less successful as performers in creating new personas for their many different roles, I could perhaps understand the first poster's complaint better. But I've yet to see a Prenzie show that wasn't enthralling, so I imagine most of their actors have some additional interpretations up their sleeves. I will happily plunk myself down to see the same faces, as long as they are talented faces, that come packaged with expressive voices and bodies, and inventive and perceptive minds. That package beats simply "new" for me any day of the week.

Finally, as to the Woolley/Bodenbender clan connection...again, it's easy to presuppose nepotism here, but I hardly suspect that was the case. Cait and Tracy have each addressed the subject of a low turn-out at auditions. I would have little trouble accepting that Maggie might have handily won the role if they'd had twice the auditionees. She is an extremely gifted actress. And so are both of her sisters. Is it that hard to believe that talent often runs in families? (Baldwin's aside.) I'm wondering if Julian Jarrell is the son of Reggie Jarrel, another actor who has been outstanding is several area productions.

I was indeed fortunate to have Maggie Woolley in the production of "Arcadia" I directed last summer for Richmond Hill, along with four other Prenzie Players. All of them, aside from Jeremy Mahr, were "new" faces to RHP, and a very welcome addition there. I'm still getting comments about what a strong ensemble of performers that show had (usually just before or after I'm asked, "What the hell was that show about, anyway?")

I've not yet seen "Othello" but only because I was tied up last weekend working another show, and I look forward to seeing it. No Prenzie show has ever made me feel I was "wasting my time." As for the comment: ...Aaron Sullivan was outstanding as Iago, I could name other actors who would portray Shakespeare's greatest villian just as well...yikes! What can I say? Plug in any other actor's and character's names and the statement is still true, but equally vacuous.

My feeling is, Prenzie's days are only numbered by their ability to maintain the same energy and same fierce standards they set for themselves. Time will tell, but I suspect they are more than up to the task.
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written by Jeremy Mahr, October 20, 2007
It would be nice to see a comment section devoid of playground insults. I usually keep out of these online discussions, not from a sense of righteousness, but because my comments usually only add fuel to the fire.

However, concerning Prenzie auditions; they are usually sparsely attended, especially after the continuous casting of last season, as Cait mentioned. So, obviously a director can only cast from who's shown up to play. And another major factor in the casting of Prenzie show is the Ensemble. We always list the show as being directed by the director AND the cast. Sure there are a hundred people in the area that could play a role, but will the actor's portrayal fit in with the other actors cast? We're trying to cast a SHOW, not ROLES.

I would like to thank the first poster for expressing his or her views. I'm sorry you feel that favoritism and nepotism are the preferred methods of show casting, but I hope your concerns have been answered and I hope to see you ALL at auditions for Taming, because the more people who show up, means that we have a better chance of getting a fabulous cast.

I hope my use of caps was expressive and not condescending.

I'm planning a 52 show year in the future.
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written by Casey Campbell, October 20, 2007
Keeping with the tradition of bashing the first posting. . .

Anyhow, I feel that the main theme that people seem to be centered around on this posting is "seeing the same actors in the same theatre companies".

I am a Chicago actor, and let me tell you, it is no different in a big city theatre scene. The top companies (Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman, Remy Bumppo, American Theatre Company) have the same circle of thespians in their productions season after season.

Sadly, yes, many theatre companies (either large or small) have become incestuous, but in this day and age, what institution hasn't become incestuous to some point? But for now, allow me to get off of my soapbox aimed at political issues. . .

I was able to see the Prenzie's production of "Henry V" and I saw something that I had never seen before in the quad cities: Passion. Here were a group of actors, performing with the scarcest sign of theatre technology, a thrift shop selection of costumes and set pieces that looked like they had been swiped from the dumpster behind Playcrafters. And you know what? I didn't care. I believed what they were doing because they were passionate.

Yes, the Prenzies are still a very young company, but the potential is overwhelming when you think of it. They are not trying to reinvent the wheel that is regional theatre, but they are asking audiences to look at that wheel differently. And when you are starting a company with this kind of vision, the "ensemble" needs to be the same group of people, with similar ideas, passion, ingenuity and the gusto to create what will DEFINE their company.

As soon as the Prenzies have made it clear to their audiences and the QC Theatre community what exactly they are doing, actors who want to work with the Prenzies will find it easier to be involved with their productions because the Prenzie Players will have clearly defined the kind of theatre they are doing. And it will take this talented group of artists known as the Prenzie "ensemble" to lay down the groundwork so that outside actors, directors and designers can join this wonderful theatre movement that the Quad City area so desperately needs.
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written by Ally, October 22, 2007
Dear Anonymous poster-

Having read your comments on the River Cities' Reader review of Prenzie Players' Othello, it has become clear to me that you (and others...) have taken it upon yourselves to harbor a grudge against me apparently based on comments left on my blog early last month (incidently, comments that have been retracted). In thinking about our "cyber-relationship", I have reached an epiphany. I think it best that we meet in person to discuss the events of the past month and maybe share a few laughs. It is apparent that the internet is unable to convey nuance, irony, or shades of emotion. However, having a face to face conversation will help us to understand one another better.

I say this because you obviously are passionate about music (and theatre) in the Quad Cities - a feeling that we both share. Don't you think it would be best if we found a way to make this energy mutually beneficial rather than adversarial? I realize that my previous words have certainly offended you, and for that, once again, I apologize. But it would seem unproductive to go on bashing one another.

Thus, I am proposing that we meet Saturday, October 27th at the Blue Cat Brew Pub in the District of Rock Island at 8 p.m.. I will be sitting upstairs at the bar and will be wearing a yellow/tan hat. Feel free to invite anyone else who you feel I have offended along the way and I will buy you all a round of drinks. I'm not suggesting this meeting as a challenge to you. This is merely an opportunity for us to bury the hatchet and figure out what makes each other tick. For your convenience, I've turned my comments back on, but I would ask that, in the spirit of "burying the hatchet" that any discourse we have with one another be of the most positive sort. If you are unable to make this meeting time due to another commitment, I am happy to set up an alternate meeting of your choice.

Finally, let me say this: I don't want you to think that I hold any lingering hostility toward you. At this point I am merely curious at what you have to say, and am eager to begin an exchange of ideas. It is clear that you are intelligent and know this area very well. I look forward to meeting with you soon.
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written by Tyson, October 22, 2007
I saw Othello last night, and I agree with Mr. Campbell's opinion about passion. It's evident that these actors were really diving into their work, and the energy they gave off was a welcome sight. However, the staging had no focus, and I still can't figure out any textual reason for the actors who, involved in intense dialogue with any character, suddenly turn and begin speaking to the audience. The most unfortunate element of the whole show was the speed at which the actors delivered their lines. I would say that I only understood about half of what was said the entire show. I really missed the meter and natural rhythms that are written into Shakespeare's lines. The cast and director should be commended for not shying away from the technical difficulties the space presented, but I was so sad to see Iago's "villian" speech and others disrupted and cheapened because the actors were walking around turning on lights.

That being said, there were some wonderful performances. I especially liked Julian Jarrell, Stephanie Burrough, Maggie Woolley, and Jeff DeLeon. They were a group of very skilled performers, and they really got to shine toward the end of the play.

Othello was the first Prenzie show I've attended, and I look forward to attending again. It's encouraging to see such a dedicated group of artists making do with the space they have available to them, and the ticket price is well worth it.
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written by schqc, October 25, 2007
Wow, would love to hear more about the "Ally" rant. Especially as I am a voice teacher myself, but never mind.

The Prenzie's are a great group.

With Opera QC and Ballet QC the Prenzies present dynamic, top notch shows that many cities of much larger size would be proud of. The amazing thing is that Prenzie does it without paying their talent.

Of course working with them is quite pay enough. I learned more about acting with them then I had with any other group.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I try not to bash.

I would like for the poster, though, to show me a group in the QCs where "inside" or "pre casting" doesn't occur? The best thing to do in the QCs is to not be a diva. Take any role that's offered by a group and get your foot in that door. If you're good enough, you may just get "pre cast".

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