Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley

New Jersey Repertory Company
Review by Cameron Kelsall

Ezra Barnes, Liza Vann, and
Todd Gearhart

Photo by SuzAnne Barabas
It's impossible to see a play called Iago and not wish you were just watching Othello instead. Likewise, it's impossible to see a play with characters modeled on Sir Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Peter Finch and not wish you were simply watching one of their classic films. James McLure's Iago, receiving its local premiere at New Jersey Repertory Company, starts off with several strikes against it.

Unfortunately, matters don't improve in this slimly plotted, largely pointless backstage comedy drama. The action centers around a love triangle involving Anthony Roland (Ezra Barnes) and Vivacity Wilkes (Liza Vann), the most famous couple in British theater, and Peter Finney (Todd Gearhart), a serious-minded matinee idol freshly arrived from Australia. Roland suggests immediately that the three of them should mount a production of Othello, setting in motion a chain of events that will bear consequences on all of their lives.

Of course, the events of Shakespeare's tragedy serve as a dramatic device for the destruction of Anthony and Vivacity's marriage, as Vivacity and Peter begin a torrid affair. Anthony is well aware of the relationship and allows it to go on under his nose, choosing to confront it only in a series of strange scenes in which the reserved Englishman almost erupts in a violence that seems strangely out of character. McLure mostly uses the struggle between Anthony and Peter as a metaphor for craft (Anthony is old school, whereas Peter is a student of method acting), their clash over Vivacity representing the changing mores of the theatrical world. This could have been interesting, but the author never delves deep enough into what is really the true passion on display: the theater itself.

Overall, there isn't much about this production that works. The acting is scattershot. Barnes manages to convincingly convey Anthony's stiff upper lip nature; however, whenever some abandon is called for, the result is almost laughably over the top. Vann's attempts to play Vivacity's complicated emotional nature come off as ditzy more than anything else. Gearhart certainly looks the part of a handsome young stage star, but his performance is fairly vapid; moreover, he doesn't even pretend to attempt an Australian accent. Only John FitzGibbon—in the rather thankless role of Sir Basil Drill, a venerated theater director—manages to give a performance that is refreshingly free of artifice.

The production is directed by SuzAnne Barabas, the company's artistic director. She makes great use of her theater's intimate space, convincingly translating it to 1940s London (the superb scenic design is by Charles Corcoran, with elegant costumes by Patricia E. Dougherty). Unfortunately, the pacing drags from nearly the first line; this is partially the fault of the inert script, in which many scenes just inexplicably end, but Barabas does not do enough to palliate this effect.

McLure died in 2011. Iago probably should have died with him.

Iago continues through Sunday, September 25, 2016, at New Jersey Repertory Company (179 Broadway, in Long Branch). Tickets ($45) can be purchased online at, by calling 732-229-3166, or in person at the box office.

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