Previous Show Reviews
The Ninjaz of Drama have just opened a taut, sensitive chamber version of Shakespeare’s Othello at the Phoenix main stage. On a minimalist set with impeccably well-designed light cues and elaborate costumes, the Ninjaz bring in the classic play in just over two hours with fast pacing and smooth scene changes. But the star of the show is Federico Edwards, a stern, regal presence as the tragic Moor of Venice.
His wife Desdemona (Livia Dimarchi) is also an actress who can deliver a fine sense of hurt and frustration. Othello gave her an heirloom handkerchief patterned with strawberries. In the first hanky scene, Desdemona tries to use it to bind his brow but he will have none of it. He casts the strawberry hanky to the floor. This scene is fraught with tragic emotion. Neither actor gives any indication they know what’s coming.
“I hate the moor,” David Abad as villain Iago proclaims early on. He delivers his monologue with forceful internalization, showing well a sense of rage and hatred within. To other characters he extends an unctuous hypocrisy. “I am an honest man,” he insists. As the play develops, he convinces us that he actually believes himself to be honest, even up to the point where he frames young Cassio with the hanky.
The pacing and tension development in this production are carefully attended to. From the moment the affable Cassio greets Desdemona, the sense of dread and evil permeate the rest of the play.
Federico Edwards as General Othello seems to be angry about everything from the get-go. Two things are on his mind constantly, his war wounds and his green-eyed monster. Edwards stays consistently in character, building steadily to a seething sense of desperation.
On the theater’s ¾-round stage set merely with three white panels upstage against black platforms left and right, Director Ray Carolino has seamlessly put together the scenes of the original play. Entrances and exits through the house voms and from behind the panels overlap with flawless timing. The action with few props displays mostly downstage and at the platforms. By the end, there are dead bodies on both.
The enunciation and projection by the actors is mostly excellent, giving an overall sense of familiarity with the lines. The cast of thirteen works effortlessly together in ensemble scenes. The costume mysteries sometimes overtake them. Maria Graham’s designs are militaristic and vaguely contemporary. Othello's costumes are magnificent, even his civvies. Some men wear everyday suits. One actress wears a red dress with polka dots and a black pill box hat.
Overall this is fully professional production running smoothly. It is at least one of the best Othello plays I have seen. With such an intimate venue, the inner turmoil comes directly downstage to you.
"Nina and the Monsters"
Expect Hysteria and Hilarity.
By Nirmala Nataraj, Special to the Chronicle. Published 04:00 a.m., Thursday, November 24, 2011
Playwright and director Rey Carolino - along with his loosely knit acting group, Ninjaz of Drama - creates pieces that are both whimsical and heartfelt. His new play, "Nina and the Monsters," which he both wrote and is directing at the Phoenix Theatre, is an example.
A boisterous comedy with hints of the hysteria and hilarity of old monster movies, Carolino's plot centers on Nina, a girl in a remote European village who's nursing a spooky secret: She's turning into a werewolf. High jinks ensue when a Hollywood producer, a movie star, a couple of intrusive CIA agents, a pair of monster chasers and two very familiar monsters all drop in to get a piece of Nina.
Carolino says that he was influenced by the classic Universal monster movies of the 1930s and '40s, from Frankenstein's monster to the Wolfman to Dracula - as well as the actors who played them: luminaries like Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr. and Boris Karloff.
"When you're 8 years old, stuff like that makes an impression on you," Carolino says.
In addition, the Hammer horror films of the '60s were a particularly potent visual influence. "Those were different," he says. "There was lots of blood and sex and color, but the movies still fueled my fanboy sense."
Carolino used those early influences to create comic books; early in his career, he was on the path to becoming a graphic artist. "That ambition fell to the wayside when I got into theater," he says, "especially when I came to understand that the characters I loved as a kid were actually great literary figures, which contributed to my desire to write about them."
He says the film "I Was a Teenage Werewolf" informed his decision to create "Nina and the Monsters." He began the piece a couple of years ago and workshopped it in 2009; it has since evolved into a "big, zany, over-the-top character comedy, full of the kind of campy moments Mel Brooks used to structure his stories."
With 17 characters, the play has the energy and structure of a sitcom, with rapid-fire scenes and set pieces. It also includes a handful of original songs by Ted Speros.
"I used a lot of the elements you might find in an old horror film, like the village with superstitious villagers that's been plagued by zombies, werewolves, witches and the like for hundreds of years," Carolino says.
Carolino, who started out writing heavy adult dramas and comedies, has just recently begun to branch into writing family-themed comedies, which he is quick to note isn't the same as what some might call children's theater.
"I was trained as a writer, and then I got into directing. ... And I learned that to be good at either of these, you have to be a good listener," he says. "And so there is truly a sense that this piece has something for all audiences."