Patrick Schmitz' 'Comedy of Othello' an Uproarious Lesson on The Bard
Patrick Schmitz’ latest William Shakespeare parody—starring the aptly named Shakesparody Players—turned one of literature’s greatest tragedies on its head to uproariously funny effect. The Comedy of Othello...kinda sorta made good use of Next Act Theatre’s reverberant converted warehouse space to turn drama to melodrama and brooding to bawdiness.
Schmitz has a gift for comedy that takes many forms, and many of those forms were on display here. The idea for the “kinda sorta” series (thus far, he’s also parodied Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet) came from his efforts to condense the classics for his high school students. That good-humored, teacherly voice came through here in such jokes as the 16th-century definition of Iago’s military title of “ancient”—he’s a flag-bearer, just a flag-bearer—being used against him by all the other characters.
Also effective were a number of running gags such as actual quotes from Iago’s famously long soliloquies being half-delivered under a dramatic spotlight with swelling music and then interrupted by other characters, thoroughly exasperated by the pretension. As Emilia humorously demands, “Leave the audience alone and talk to us.” Various characters likewise got in on the Othello-Aladdin connection through the name “Iago,” and several very decent Gilbert Godfrey voice imitations were offered.
The performance ensemble didn’t have a single weak link and was particularly admirable for its inclusion of both “character actors” and “straight men.” Nic Onorato as Roderigo stood out among the first set. In this version, he was a charming simpleton ineptly stalking Desdemona (even sporting night-vision goggles at one point) and carrying on one hell of a one-sided bromance with Iago. Onorato shone for his endearing naiveté and great physical comedy. Musical wizard Robby McGhee also made a turn as Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, stealing every scene he was in with his impeccable comedic timing and commanding voice.
Beth Lewinski’s Emilia was likewise brilliant. In this telling, the character has turned to prostitution because her husband doesn’t love her anymore. In Lewinski’s perfectly timed and understated realization, this choice made her simultaneously a strong, independent woman and a vulnerable, believable tragic heroine—just not the kind that can ever be trifled with.
Among the relative “straight man” roles, Othello and Desdemona did well keeping the storyline on track. DeAre Jett’s Othello was generally serious and low-key—which only makes it funnier when he suddenly burst into crazed pushups set to the iconic score of Psycho. Andrea Watkins’ Desdemona was less the devoted wife and more the self-absorbed party girl, and that interpretation worked very well for the story. Her various complaints about Othello’s apparent sexual inhibition hit home with the audience like lines from a particularly good episode of “Jerry Springer.”
As an ensemble, the actors’ most impressive feat was their handling of the play’s ending. To Schmitz and the Shakesparody Players’ credit, no plot points were substantially changed; these talented performers were simply able to deliver the action in a way that took the teeth out of excessive death and instead made us laugh at the characters’ ridiculousness. We learned something, the story was more accessible than ever, and we went away smiling. What more could you want from a Shakespeare parody?