This weekend local funny guy Patrick Schmitz presents his latest Shakespearian parody The Comedy of Othello (Kinda Sorta). The heady drama of Shakespearian tragedy is leavened with Schmitz’s trademark light comedy peppered with pop cultural references in the intimate space of the Next Act Theatre with a sizable cast. Shakespearian complexity is firmly anchored in Schmitz’s sketch comedy atmosphere for a light couple of hours at the theatre. There is casual costuming and a few props, but little else to get in the way of the central comedy.
DeAre Jett is substantially charismatic as the title character. He’s got great gravitas as the powerful central character. Jett has a crisp wit about him, but largely he’s there to be a physical presence around which all of the rest of the comedy orbits. He does a good job bringing the necessary gravity to the stage. Jett shows real potential for something of greater nuance comedically and dramatically...a potential which also echoes through the performance of Andrea Watkins in the role of his wife Desdemona.
Towering Marcus Beyer cuts a lean and powerful form as the scheming villain Iago. If called on to bring the darkness, there’s no question that he could. Beyer has a deep voice and a potentially sinister presence that occasionally casts shadows across the stage, This IS a Patrick Schmitz show, though. The comedy never has a chance to get all that dark. Thankfully, Beyer is quite talented comedically. He does quite a bit with the comedy of frustration. It’s an imperfect world that Iago is forced to live in and Beyer summons quite a bit of humor from the heart of the character’s frustration.
Beyer is allowed some brief flashes of complexity, but the vast majority of the script’s complexity rests on the shoulders of Beth Lewinski in the role of his wife Emilia. Lewinski is a Milwaukee comedy veteran who has experience which has come to match her talent over the years. She can do as much with the humor of idle moments as she can with the more sophisticated and subtle ends of the plot. The script seems to hand her 90% of the task of being the responsible adult of the cast. As difficult as that must be in a light comedy about lies, murder and ambition, Lewinski makes it look easy. It’s so cool to see her in a role like this.
It’s also really cool to see Nicolo Onorato show-up in the play. I’ve seen him pop-up in the odd show here or there every once in a while over the course of the past ten years or so and I’ve been impressed every time. Here he’s playing Iago’s heroically guileless accomplice Roderigo. Onorato is overpoweringly likable as the nice guy who is totally oblivious to the fact that he is being taken advantage of.
Schmitz’s script can sometimes feel a bit too anxious to fill every moment with punchlines. The script is at its best when Schmitz is setting-up situations that allow actors to bring the comedy. (There's a great talent in that. It goes way beyond writing witty punchlines.) Milwaukee comedy veteran Robby McGhee makes a tremendous impact with almost no time onstage. Jake Woelfel manages to do something very similar with a role which was designed to be comically ancillary . . . a bit that Schmitz added-into the mix which comes really close to being almost...unreasonably clever. Woelfel plays Pete Benson--a spear carrier who is scheming for something larger. (You've got to figure...this is Shakespeare, so even the spear carriers are going to get wildly ambitious, right?) Of course, the spear carrier is doomed to obscurity like us all. It’s a sharp comedic idea that could make for much more interesting comedy in more of a central role, but . . . that’s kind of the point of a comedically ambitious spear carrier in a show like this. He’s destined for marginality but like all of us he wants more. A comic existentialist hero dropped into an otherwise silly light comedy. Funny stuff.
There are a hand full of isolated moments that aspire to the kind of cleverness of the ambitious spear carrier. Roderigo mentions to Iago that he’s going to go home during intermission...doesn’t have much of a role in the second half anyway. Iago has to get him to stay through intermission because he still needs to use him as a pawn. Breaking the fourth wall is often a throwaway gag, but here it kind of becomes a bit of a challenging conflict to overcome right before intermission. Elsewhere in the script, Schmitz uses a breaking of the fourth wall to advance audience sympathies for Iago as Lewinski expresses concern over his frequent soliloquies. She lets him know as gently as possible that he needs to be there for the rest of the characters onstage...not just the audience. I love the depth that adds to the characters of Iago and Emilia. Too bad there wasn’t more of that kind of complexity...but then...this IS Shakespeare cast through the lens of light sketch comedy. Too much depth would kind of defeat the purpose. It’s nice to have it there, though...and it’s nice to see Schmitz returning to the stage for another weekend with a satisfying comedy.
Patrick Schmitz’s The Comedy of Othello (Kinda Sorta) runs through Aug. 12 at the Next Act Theatre on 255 South Water St. (There’s one more performance left at 7:30 pm tonight.) For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.