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O-HELL-O

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Let me just start out by saying that I’ve tried to give Shakespearean theater a fair shake. Really, I have. I’ve seen a handful of plays at American Players Theater in Spring Green and actually enjoyed some of them; A Comedy of Errors and As You Like It come to mind. However, like visiting the dentist or taking my car to the shop when the check engine light comes on, Shakespearean theater is something I’d rather avoid and it usually ends up being even more painful than expected. Of course my perspective may be slanted due to the psychological scarring inflicted by an old college professor of mine. After reading a paper I’d written analyzing a certain section ofRomeo and Juliet, she accused me of cheating. I didn’t cheat, honest. Even after all these years I’ll wake up in a cold sweat convinced that my rat-faced professor has burned up my college diploma just to spite me. So it was with a chip on my shoulder the size of City Hall that I accepted an invitation (read: free tickets) to American Players Theater on August 1 to see Othello. The drive to Spring Green is pleasant, if lengthy. West of Madison, all of the tension built up from jockeying for position on the freeway sort of melts away and, with a 55 mph speed limit, my wife and I actually had time to enjoy the idyllic farmhouses, miles of cornfields, and heavily forested hillsides. I nearly veered off the road several times near Cross Plains, craning my neck to catch a glimpse of one of the state’s premiere trout streams, Black Earth Creek. Spring Green, little more than a hiccup on the drive, was devoid of traffic, pedestrian or otherwise. We drank beer and ate cheeseburgers at a sparsely decorated restaurant downtown appropriately called The Shed. Arriving at APT about 45 minutes before the play started, we had enough time to hike up the gravel paths and bathe ourselves in the bug repellent provided by the theater. We had good seats and I was thinking that I should just lighten up and that, after all, it was pretty cool to be sitting out in nature, soaking up a little culture. Then the play started. Othello. Bryan Hicks, who took on the title role, was truly abysmal. His clumsy African/British accent was nearly impossible to interpret, and his melodramatic overacting was, quite frankly, embarrassing. Chuckles rippled through the audience at moments when the tension between Othello and Desdemona should have been greatest. Ten-year APT veteran Jim DeVita delivered a solid performance as Iago, but his efforts were hardly enough to buoy a sinking ship. Shortly after intermission I’d pretty much lost interest and began admonishing the characters internally: Othello, methinks I’m going to puke! I beseech thee, stop overacting anon! I was relieved when Othello finally did himself in. As disastrous as the play was, getting stuck in post-play traffic would have made matters even worse. My wife and I bolted during the curtain call to get a jump on all of the suckers who feel compelled to give a standing ovation no matter how bad a play is. We slipped out of the parking lot without a hitch and, while it was a small victory, I suppose all’s well that ends well.
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