DHS, Hilberry take ‘Othello’ from comedy to tragedy

Photo by Sue Suchyta
Dearborn High School presents the comic farce “Lend Me a Tenor” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 to 10 in the school’s auditorium. Tickets are $7 for children and senior citizens, $9 for college students and $10 for general admission. Call 313-827-1647 to reserve tickets.

From farce to tragedy, from mistaken identity to lies, two local companies offer very different shows featuring Othello, the Moor of Venice, to take your mind off the sideshow of the election.

In “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Otello” is being performed by a famous tenor, an opera singer who is caught up in a case of mistaken identity, which culminate in chase scenes and hilarity.

The Hilberry delivers a futuristic yet classic performance of the Shakespearean tragedy involving jealousy, revenge, misperceptions and fatal lies.

The comic farce “Lend Me a Tenor” runs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 7 to 10 at Dearborn High School, 19501 Outer Drive in Dearborn. Tickets are $7 for children and senior citizens, $9 for college students and $10 for general admission. Call 313-827-1647 to reserve tickets.

Director Greg Viscomi double cast five of the roles in the eight-person cast, giving him a cast of 13 to take advantage of the talented juniors and seniors whom he knew would audition. The double cast actors will each appear in two of the four performances.

Viscomi said the school had not done the show in about a decade, and he felt it was time to do it again. He said audiences should expect a lot of comedy and laughter.

An opera company hires a world famous tenor to play “Otello.” However, after arriving, a string of unanticipated circumstances causes the star to take too many tranquilizers, and the company scrambles to pass off one of their own as the promised tenor. What follows is a madcap romp of mistaken identities, plot twists, chases, double entendres and much laughter.

The cast includes seniors Connor Blankenship, 17, as Max, Westley Montgomery, 18, as Tito Merelli, Frankie Nunez, 17, as the bellhop, Katie Polidori, 17, as Maggie, and Lindsay Culp, 17, as Diana.

Newcomer and home-schooled junior Christina Pizzimenti, 16, portrays Maria, with 16-year-old juniors Victoria Johnson as Julia, Mary Charara as Maggie, Joseph Read as the bellhop, Jordan DiGregorio as Diana and Nader Berry as Mr. Saunders.

Max must impersonate the famous tenor, Tito Merelli. Blankenship said this is the first time he has played such a dynamic character whose personality changes during the course of the play.

“The whole plot is pretty surprising,” Blankenship said. “The entire idea of what’s happening could never really happen in real life, so it makes it funny and there are a couple twists that keep everybody interested.”

Maggie’s character is infatuated with the famous tenor, whom Max impersonates.

Charara said there is humor in the uncertainty of whom is playing Tito at any given moment – the actual star or Max.

“It’s just a really great show,” Charara said. “It’s funny and it’s interesting and it’s better than a lot of plays I’ve seen. It keeps you interested the whole time, and the show is perfect for our cast.”

Pizzimenti said the cast has been hard at work rehearsing the show for a while, which she describes as a fun process.

“It’s a really entertaining show,” Pizzimenti said. “A lot of farces tend to get almost boring because the humor’s all the same, but it’s really fresh and it’s really funny and we’ve made it really modern. It’s a hilarious show. We laughed during rehearsals.”

Wayne State University’s graduate level Hilberry Theatre Company continues its 50th season with Shakespeare’s tragedy of “Othello.” The show, which opened Oct 26, will run through Jan. 17 in rotating repertoire with the modern comedy “Goodnight Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet)” which runs Nov. 16 to Feb. 9. For tickets or more information, call 313-577-2972 or go to Hillberry.com.

Scenic designer Leazah Behrens’ futuristic, multi-level set is an eerie, foreboding cubic structure faintly reminiscent of “Hollywood Squares,” with flowing curtains and clever set piece storage that effortlessly facilitates smooth and rapid scene changes.

Lighting designer Brian Scruggs uses the set to full advantage to facilitate the darkness of mood and the impending sense of doom with cool lighting.

Costume designer Clare Hungate-Hawk has given the talented cast a futuristic look without succumbing to the comic book effect. Soldiers and officers are still clearly so, while the women are clothed in tailored, long dresses and skirts that are other-worldly without being Elizabethan knock-offs, and without succumbing to the futuristic temptation to make women protagonists look like short-skirted Wonder Women wenches.

Director Blair Anderson has cast the talented Alec Barbour in the role of Iago. Barbour’s expressions and easy feigned innocence make him an ideal villain, the type one loves to hate.

Edmund Alyn Jones is a warm and very human Othello, who is very convincing in his love and loyalty for Desdemona, wonderfully portrayed by Megan Dobbertin, with her love for Othello at the forefront.

Danielle Cochran, as Emilia, maid to Desdemona, adds depth to her role, and very believably captures the dual role of servant and confidante who realizes that her unwitting collaboration with Othello has precipitated a train-wreck of jealous and misguided passion.

Above all else, audiences will enjoy the beauty of the bard’s immortal words, which the cast delivers with professional finesse on a par with their peers at the Stratford Festival in Ontario.

Even those unfamiliar with Shakespeare will recognize famous lines, from Iago’s promise to “wear my heart upon my sleeve” to his cliché about jealousy being a green-eyed monster. Emilia says the familiar “’Tis neither here nor there,” and Othello talks of “a foregone conclusion,” and “pomp and circumstance” while Cassio mourns losing his reputation, the immortal part of oneself.

From “one that loved not wisely but too well,” to putting out the light, “Othello” is a classic tragedy rich in the bard’s wonderful words, a timeless story of love, deception and jealousy, and a marvelously performed show that makes one fall in love with Shakespeare’s timeless work anew.