Othello: The Remix (Shakespeare 400 Chicago)

Jackson Doran, GQ, Postell Pringle, and JQ. Photos by Michael Brosilow.

 

 

Othello: The Remix

Written, Directed, and Composed by GQ and JQ

Developed with Rick Boynton

Produced by Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

A Streamlined, Modern Othello

When Jonathan Munby’s Othello played at Navy Pier earlier this year, as the first Chicago Shakespeare original production in the Shakespeare 400 Festival, widespread opinion was that it was a masterful telling of a story which is overly long for its simple plot. If you love this play’s characters, but have a problem with its pacing, the Q Brothers’ adaptation is just the thing for you. Having premiered in 2012 and played at Chicago Shakespeare the following year, this eighty minute streamlined version of is set in the modern music industry, and told through rap (as was a section of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company, but this explores the idea in much more depth, while retaining the antic comedy). While Shakespeare fans may miss the Bard’s verbal acuity, the Q Brothers are no slouches as poets, and the four-man ensemble delivers these newer rhymes with a craft which, in its own way, requires as much practice as classical Shakespeare.

Roderigo (JQ) and Iago (GQ)

As his opener, Othello (Postell Pringle) declares how he rose from nothing to become one of the foremost rappers in the world. This is crucial—the boasting which caused rich, white Desdemona to become infatuated with him is all truthful, unlike in the original, and Othello believes that, in her, he has achieved the American Dream. (Othello is also much nearer Desdemona in age.) Desdemona herself is never seen onstage, but her wordless singing backs up Othello’s songs. She’s regarded by his fans as a positive addition to his artistic output, and adored by all. However, Othello’s newest find, Cassio (Jackson Doran), is a much bigger problem for one of the label’s lesser names, Iago (GQ). Besides how insulting it is do have to open for someone who is his junior in every regard, Iago cannot stand performing in Cassio’s boyband-style dance routines, and absolutely despises where his juvenile, cloying lyrics are leading hip-hop.

Othello (Postell Pringle) and Iago (GQ)

Othello will hear nothing against Cassio, of course, so Iago implements his wicked scheme. Tricked into supplying him with money is the techie Roderigo (JQ), a lugubrious nerd whose knowledge of gaming culture is too detailed for the authors not to be nerds, themselves. JQ plays several minor characters, and in a few scenes, has to rapidly switch between them, which he also did in the Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol. His extreme changes are all uproarious, and his Bianca and Ludovico, like his Rodrigo, have new gimmicks to keep them interesting. Jackson Doran is suitably annoying as Cassio, who merely pretends to be a player; it’s a little hard not to empathize with Iago sometimes. But Dornan also plays Iago’s wife Emilia, who, though often another source of comic relief in her desperation for Iago’s attention, also has a fierce drag queen sort of moral voice, which she uses to delightful effect.

The core of every Othello is Iago, and JQ’s is as mean as they come. Only in the tough-guy world of hip-hop could this scowling, pouting figure pass himself off as honest and well-intentioned, but so he does. Of all the dope raps in the show, JQ performs the two most memorable, in which he proclaims his reasons for hating Othello, and later, himself to be a mastermind. Clayton Stamper’s DJing is in precise coordination with the emotional arc of the story, but there’s something especially menacing about the moments in which he backs up Iago. Postell Pringle’s Othello, who as I note above, is much more noble and likeable than the original, is likewise charismatic. It seems like Iago has a challenge in bringing him down, which provides the story with much-needed tension. The non-opening night I attended, Chicago Shakespeare had achieved the rare feat of attracting a truly diverse audience. Even better, it satisfied them. Othello need not be interpreted as a morality tale, but having done so, the Q Brothers made it their own, and told it with enviable skill.

Highly Recommended

Jacob Davis

3jacob.davis@gmail.com

Reviewed April 16, 2016

For more information, see Othello: The Remix’s page on Theatre in Chicago.

Playing in the Chicago Shakespeare upstairs theatre, 800 E Grand Ave, Navy Pier, Chicago. Tickets start at $35; to order, call 312-595-5600 or visit chicagoshakes.com. Performances are through May 8. Running time is eighty minutes with no intermission.