‘Othello: The Remix’ a brilliant, hip take on Shakespeare’s classic tale
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org March 19, 2013 12:42PM
Jackson Dora, GQ, Postell Pringle and JQ star in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of "Othello: The Remix." | Photo by Michael Brosilow
‘Othello: The Remix’
When: Through April 28
Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater Upstairs, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier
Info: (312) 595-5600; www.chicagoshakes.com
Run time: 95 minutes. with one intermission
Updated: March 19, 2013 3:59PM
Yo Billy Shakes, turn your beatbox up to high
Cause “Othello’ (yeah, “The Remix”) is aimin’ for the sky.
It’s scratchin’ your iambic in a “pent”-up sort of way
Yeah, those Brothers known as Qs are givin’ rappers their best day.
Their Moor’s a big chart-topper with a tour headin’ out
Desdemona is the singer with some bling from “O” to tout
Five guys up there on stage are givin’ every single breath,
And a pillow’s all that’s needed when poor “D” is put to death.
To cut to the chase: “Othello: The Remix” — the 90-minute, lightening-fast, hip-hop version of Shakespeare’s tragic tale of jealousy and self-doubt, is absolutely brilliant, and immense fun. The show, which wholly reimagines the original, is now in its U.S. debut at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre Upstairs. Written, directed and musicalized by Chicago’s Q Brothers (with help from Rick Boynton), it was devised for London’s 2012 “Globe to Globe” Cultural Olympiad, and subsequently toured to Edinburgh and Germany. And while it has been “transferred” from Renaissance Venice to 21st century America, it turns out to be every bit as faithful to the play’s core meaning and message as poor Desdemona was to Othello.
The third such creation by the hip and gifted brothers known as GQ and JQ, it is in many ways even more successful than their earlier ventures into Shakespeare’s comedies (“The Bomb-itty of Errors” and “Funk It Up About Nothin’”). And all it takes to tell the story are four actor-singers of astonishing verbal and physical dexterity to play all the roles. (They even form a knockout girl’s group that sings “It’s a Man’s World,” with no need to apologize to James Brown.) Clayton Stamper is the all-important DJ, driving the beat from an onstage balcony.
Postell Pringle plays Othello, the ghetto-born musician, pumped up on the American Dream as he skyrockets to success. Like Shakespeare’s Othello, who seduced Desdemona with his stories, this Othello seduces with his songs.
GQ plays Iago, a lyricist jealous of Othello’s success who is determined to undo him by planting seeds of doubt abut Desdemona’s faithfulness. Jackson Doran is Cassio, a pop singer who is Othello’s good-hearted but not entirely disciplined pal. (He also is a hoot as Emilia, Iago’s unloved wife.) And JQ triples up as the nerdy roadie, Roderigo, record label honcho Loco Vito, and Bianca, Cassio’s demanding Latino girlfriend.
So what about Desdemona, you might well ask? Trust me, she is present even though she is absent. It’s a neat trick with a genuinely emotional payoff. The tragedy is palpable here.
And then there’s “the language” issue. Not only does this show’s fire-powered hip-hop lingo fall trippingly from the actors’ tongues (they are all exceptional actors), but just as Shakespeare helped shape English, rap has dramatically refashioned it.
NOTE: This is hip-hop with all the usual sexual suggestiveness, so if you are “protective,” leave the kids at home. They will hate you for it.