Last night there was more than one murder in a dimly-lit parking lot on the Lower East Side. Innocent passersby were arrested in their tracks by what they happened upon. But they should not have been so surprised. Scenes like this have been taking place on this exact spot for more than 20 years. This is Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.
Last night the mighty Othello was brought down by the knavish genius Iago. But an even greater tragedy befell this plot. Last night was the final night in a score of years – Shakespeare will no longer be staged in this Parking Lot on the corner of Ludlow and Broome.
The artistic director made himself as much a part of the action with this announcement as the woman walking by holding two shopping bags, the unsuspecting drivers simply parking their cars, or the elderly gentleman, ready to lend a helping hand, drawn by the commotion of an overwrought Othello writhing on the ground.
“I am not what I am.” So says the cunning Iago to the audience, making us a part of his conspiracy. On Friday night, the penultimate performance, the part of Iago was brilliantly played by understudy, Drew Valens, giving even greater weight to the words: “I am not what I am.” But it is hard to imagine a better Iago than he gave us. He was indeed Iago on this night.
His evasive exchange, in which he confounds the general, making him believe the worst by telling him absolutely nothing at all is handled as expertly as Kenneth Branaugh’s same dialogue with Lawrence Fishburne as Othello, or Bob Hoskin’s with Anthony Hopkins’ Othello.
Jane Bradley as his better half, Emilia, I place second. The parts that involve dissembling inspire the best acting, which is no surprise. Paradoxically, the greatest honesty comes from those characters whose roles it is to act. Iago is truthful about himself with us, and Emilia’s honesty unmasks her husband to all. In doing this, she reveals herself, delivering as close to what in Shakespeare amounts to a feminist tract.
Only these two characters give themselves the freedom to act out themselves, and Emilia only towards the very end of the play. The rest are players in Iago’s script, which he writes before our eyes, a master improviser.
Eric Paterniani as the clown, too, puts on an impressive performance; a clown is also an actor putting on a show. Michael William Bernstein is a completely believable Roderigo, who Iago calls his fool. Roderigo plays the part. The other major parts – Ivory Aquino as Desdemona, Aaron Scott as Othello, and Lukas Raphael as Michael Cassio round out the cast and move the action where it goes.
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot is a unique experience. It’s the passion of theater without the packaging. Even more fundamentally, it transforms the ultimate space for pay into a free zone, something that does not happen enough. The combination of people who came to a play and people who came upon a play, the accidental audience members who just happened to find something of value in a parking lot, is priceless. Though its 20-year run on Ludlow and Broome has been swept away, the artistic director assured us it will find a new asphalt home where we will soon be parking ourselves.
By William Shakespeare; directed by Hamilton Clancy; sets by Jennifer Varbalow; costumes by Nina Vartanian; fight director, Allesandro Colla; graphic designer: Phililip DeVia, assistant costume designer: Kate Jenkinson; Lee Wexler, photography; Jonathan Slaff, publicity. A Drilling Company Production, www.drillingomcpany.org.
With: Aaron Scott (Othello), Ivory Aquino (Desdemona), Drew Valins (Iago), Drew Valins Bob Arcaro (Barbantio), Lukas Raphael (Cassio), Michael Bernstein (Roderigo), Ahmed Akkoudous (Ludovico), Jane Bradley (Emilia), Milena Davila (Bianca), Eric Paterniani (Clown).