Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Smattering of Reviews

Othello: The Tragedy of the Moor airs Sunday at 9pm on CBC. Check out what the critics are saying:

"The classic story of Othello is followed to a tee and traditionalists will not be disappointed. Yet the scenes are sharp and fast-moving — enough to enchant the unfamiliar. And even though the lines follow an old-school delivery, it isn’t hard to follow along once you decipher the 'thous' and 'thines.'

"Delivering a brilliant performance as the title character, Rota also executive-produced the project, which is his first-ever experience with Shakespeare.

"'I thought it was just such a huge bloody mountain to climb. I was going to leave it to people who knew better about it,'” he muses. 'Look at me — I’m in my late 40s and I’ve just done some Shakespeare.'

"Six months ago, Rota would have written Shakespeare off as 'mental.' Now, when asked if he would ever consider doing the real thing — act in a Shakespearian play — he says he would jump at the chance.

"It is hard to imagine the scheming-yet-lovable Yasir on Little Mosque or the elusive Morris O’Brian on 24 taking up the ominous role of Othello. But Rota’s deep, soothing voice and heart-wrenching scenes will leave you sympathetic and angry, not to mention mesmerized.

"Even more brilliant is Deslippe’s performance as the power-driven Iago, who will stop at nothing to wreak revenge on the unsuspecting Cassio for his recent promotion by the Moor. The perfect villain, Deslippe plays with the viewer’s emotions; he delivers soliloquies to the camera that invoke sympathy and then toys with the others’ fates with such chilling detachment that before you’re aware, you have a boiling bubble of hate in the pit of your stomach.

"Topping off the stellar trio is Horne and her performance as the love-driven Desdemona. Horne plays the part with interlaced innocence and charm, but the real enchantment is the conviction in her eyes — something a restricted theatrical version would never let the viewer experience.

"'We’ve made what I hope people view as a very healthy hybrid of stage and TV,' Rota explains. 'It’s a return for the CBC to a mandate that they haven’t really pursued in the last little while. I’m hoping that we’ll get a strong audience because it’s the perfect thing for this network.'"

-- Amber Dowling, TV Guide

"Rota usually projects a humorous self-awareness that should be all wrong for Othello, but turns out to be all right. He establishes authority without effort ('put up your bright swords') and seems very sure both of himself and of his love.

"Iago has to work very hard to crack that shell; some clever adaptation (by Matthew Edison and director Zaib Shaikh) makes it seem a longer, more varied and gradual process than it is in the theatre. The temptation takes place over a buffet-lunch; when the dam is burst, Othello finds an outlet in hacking away at a joint of meat.

"A terrible logic, unfounded but unstoppable, takes over the two scenes in which he abuses his wife as a whore. His last speech is left intact; in fact we hear it twice, at beginning and end. (The play is a flashback.) And with it we reach greatness. Rota lays out the facts of the case calmly, sanely, tormentedly; it seems he'll go quietly. And when he whips out his knife and kills himself, it's total shock. It's a long time since I've seen an Othello, on stage or screen, as good as this."

"The cast includes a posse of Stratford Festival veterans -- Graham Abbey, Peter Donaldson, Jonathan Goad-- who can colour and personalize the verse at any volume; Abbey is the best Cassio I have ever seen."

-- Robert Cushman, National Post

"'I wanted a challenge, and man, did I get one,' says Rota, who is best known for roles in the TV series La Femme Nikita, the superspy drama 24, and Little Mosque.

"'I plunged myself into Othello with great abandon,' he continues. 'The first day on set, I was going on about how the text was so wonderful, how it holds your emotions . . . and Peter Donaldson [a Stratford Shakespeare Festival veteran who plays Brabantio] was looking at me like, 'welcome to the party, pal - we've been here for years.'

"'I was nervous, to tell you the truth,' Rota adds, who got into acting relatively late in life, at age 30. "As an actor, you have an imposter syndrome at the best of times.'"

"Aurora, Ont.-born Christine Horne (The Stone Angel) plays Desdemona. Several Stratford Festival alumni are cast, including Deslippe (who plays Iago), Donaldson, Graham Abbey (Cassio) and Nazneen Contractor (Bianca).

"The writers also did not contemporize the language, remaining true to Shakespeare's words. Rota says he learned to speak Shakespearean English by listening to CDs in his car on a five-day road trip to Toronto from his home in Los Angeles.

"'We started rehearsals in the middle of January and when I started to mouth the words I thought I was doing a god-awful job,' Rota says. 'But with the help of fabulous actors like Contractor, I learned to make the words mine. That took a bit of doing since I have no formal training in it. But in the end, I took my own course.'"

-- Gayle MacDonald, The Globe and Mail

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