Watching "The Cause, My Soul," a world-premiere visiting production at the Odyssey, can be an exasperating experience — not because the play is bad or even middling, but because it so narrowly misses the mark of excellence.
The playwright, Ted Lange (yes, that Ted Lange, who played bartender Isaac on "The Love Boat"), has written a prequel to "Othello" — an audacious enterprise in and of itself, and an undeniably clever one. Yet Lange, who also directs, is occasionally guilty of excess that places his work on the precipice of parody.
The action commences in Venice, as triumphant war hero Othello (Thomas Anthony Jones) first meets Desdemona (Lindsey Santefort), for whom he converts from Islam to Christianity in preparation for their secret marriage. At this point, Iago (Stephen Spiegel) has not yet evolved into Shakespeare's monster of revenge, but when Othello promotes Michael Cassio (William Reinbold) to the rank of lieutenant over Iago's head, Iago is enraged — and the fact that he suspects Othello of an affair with his wife, Emilia (Jessica Moreno), isn't helping.
The problem isn't so much with Lange's revisionism but in his showboating, such as larding the text with familiar Shakespearean quotes, clumsily tweaked ("Oh, that this too, too solid coin should melt"). Anachronisms creep in, while references to Othello as an "ebony knight" and "sepia sentinel" have the ring of pure pulp.
Still, those tin-eared bits are balanced by some wonderfully intelligent passages to which Lange's excellent actors, including Keena Ferguson, Paul Messinger, Steve Ducey, Gordon Goodman and Bruce Cervi, do full credit. The design elements, particularly Mylette Nora's sumptuous costumes, are splendid — although the heavy-handed use of Beethoven's Fifth has got to go. Now, all Lange needs is a thick blue pencil for another draft of his potentially fine play.