`Othello' production hits snag, but still the show must go on

Departure has artistic leader taking on Iago role

Stage: theater, music, dance

October 02, 2003|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

This is the story of a genuine good guy who unexpectedly wound up playing one of the most sinister villains in dramatic literature.

James Kinstle, artistic director of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, thought he had his hands full with tomorrow's opening of the festival's new home in St. Mary's Outreach Center in Hampden. Then he lost the actor cast as Iago in the theater's production of Othello.

Two weeks into the four-week rehearsal period, actor Michael Gabel left to take a role in John Waters' new movie, A Dirty Shame. He was within his rights according to his contract with the acting union, Actors' Equity, which permits actors to accept "more remunerative employment."

And Kinstle insists there are no hard feelings at the Shakespeare Festival. "As an actor, I said to him, `I completely understand. You've got to take the work when you get it.' This happens all the time, and you have to make the best of it."

But Gabel's Sept. 12 departure did leave the company in the lurch. "We tried all weekend to find somebody who was available and familiar with the part, so that he could jump into the role," Kinstle says of what he describes as "one of Shakespeare's most verbose characters."

In the end -- and in the best show-must-go-on tradition -- Kinstle stepped into Shakespeare's largest role himself. The actor/artistic director has only performed a limited amount of Shakespeare in the past, playing Leonato in the festival's 2001 production of Much Ado About Nothing and a courtier in Hamlet and As You Like It at Center Stage.

Because the Shakespeare Festival recently signed a small professional theater contract with Actors' Equity, Kinstle had to join the union for Othello, which features a half dozen Equity actors, including Jorge Watson in the title role and Megan Anderson as his bride, Desdemona, under the direction of Tony Tsendeas.

As to the artistic director's other tasks, Kinstle says of his administrative duties, "I have an incredible staff which was already going above and beyond but is now taking even more off my shoulders." In terms of heading up the conversion of the former St. Mary's Church into a 240-seat theater, he adds, "Fortunately, we were a little bit ahead of the schedule with some of the construction."

And so, while Kinstle the actor admits to finding his new role "a little overwhelming," Kinstle the artistic director says confidently, "The show will go on, and that's what makes live theater exciting."

Show times at St. Mary's, 3900 Roland Ave., are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays and 10:30 a.m. Thursdays, through Oct. 26. Tickets are $20 general admission, $15 for seniors and $12 for students. Call 877-639-3728 or visit www.balti moreshakespeare.org.

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