Chicago Theater Review: OTHELLO: THE REMIX (Chicago Shakespeare)

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by Lawrence Bommer on March 17, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

MAY THE RAP BE WITH YOU

Before Othello: The Remix it was only Shakespeare’s comedies that received the Q brothers’ trademark, rap-happy revision—Funk It Up About Nothin’ and The Bomb-itty of Errors. Who would have thought a tragedy could take it?

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Chicago Shakespeare's "Othello: The Remix."It can. Boldly applying a hip transformation to Shakespeare domestic tragedy, this much-acclaimed venture premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and has played Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and in Germany. (Well, rap like Shakespeare is universal.) In this delirious delight, developed with Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s creative producer Rick Boynton, five players take only 90 minutes (and one questionable intermission) to deliver a freely funky, hip-hopped remake, complete with boom-box beat and breakout poetry, of how the Moor’s “green-eyed monster” of jealousy, inspired by his malevolent aide Iago, makes him kill Desdemona, the love of his life and, now, the excuse for his death.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Chicago Shakespeare's "Othello: The Remix."Once again the Q brothers, GQ and JQ (what happened to IQ?), update but never trivialize the master’s universal grasp of characters in conflict. (It would take seven hearings to catch all the show’s cultural references, one reason that it will never outlast its source.)

In this richly “remixed” and equally faithful treatment, Othello (Postell Pringle, louder and larger than life) is a self-made rapper on the verge of recording contracts and tons of bling. His partner in music and love is the unseen Desdemona (a good choice as seeing her suffering would be a definite downer). She’s both Othello’s muse and a source of guilt and insecurity over how he took her from her snobbish and rap-condemning father and over how strong their sudden marriage will prove.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Chicago Shakespeare's "Othello: The Remix."Dressed in the crew’s gray jump-suits and presenting rapid-fire wig and prop changes, the prime homies of Othello’s entourage are smooth-toned Cassio (Jackson Doran), nerdy video gamester and lighting designer Rodrigo (JQ), and, of course, the master manipulator of them all—Iago (GQ). He’s as jealous of Cassio as he intends Othello to be of Desdemona—and he’s vengeful when the emerging rapper’s beats are favored over his own. (JQ also plays Blanca, a Latin spitfire with a pink fright wig, and Loco Vito, a record producer with a marketing scheme for every moment.)

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Chicago Shakespeare's "Othello: The Remix."Like a poetry slam on steroids, the rest of the story dogs the original like a bloodhound, except that here it’s a gold necklace, rather than a handkerchief, that false convinces Iago of his lady’s treachery. Iago devilishly engineers Cassio’s disgrace, lacing his drinks to make him misbehave at an album release party, then tricks Rodrigo, from whom he’s gamed a ton of swag, into wounding Cassio (which means Iago must kill him to quiet the voluble geek). In the end Iago’s suspicious and courageous wife Emilia (Doran wearing a mop of a wig) exposes Iago’s dirty designs but not before Othello erupts in a pre-homicidal rant that drives him to destroy the imagined Desdemona.

Lawrence Bommer's Stage and Cinema review of Chicago Shakespeare's "Othello: The Remix."If iambic pentameter seemed the natural cadence for Shakespeare’s blank verse, rap rhythms take the pulse of our times. Marvels of supple, split-second timing and gangbanging hubris, the bouncing, bubbly dialogue is as infectious as repetitious. The result is an intricately coordinated collaboration of music-video choreography, pulsating beat backdrop by disk-jockey Clayton Stamper, Jesse Klug’s wizard lighting design, James Savage’s inexhaustible sound design, and Scott Davis’ ingenious props and costumes.

Nothing’s lost in this deft translation. Othello stays serious where it should, notably as the inevitable catastrophe closes in: Even where it didn’t before, it strikes true, as in a hilarious, driving rouser by the “women” about why men shouldn’t rule the world. Happily and intentionally, the storyline stays too strong enough to succumb to the style. Indeed the insistent percussive dynamism of the script propels the unstoppable tragedy as much as any incidents. However long the run, this “remix” can never run long enough.

photos by Michael Brosilow

Othello: The Remix
Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier
scheduled to end on April 28, 2013 EXTENDED to July 27, 2013
for tickets, call 312.595.5600 or visit http://www.chicagoshakes.com

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