Off-Broadway Review: Shakespeare’s “Othello” Consumes the Senses at the New York Theatre Workshop

January 1, 2017 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
Off-Broadway Review: “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Closed Wednesday January 18, 2017)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Gold
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” –  Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Act III, Scene 3

Whatever reasons that might be attributed to reimagining Shakespeare’s “Othello” – whether to create interest, heighten symbolism, or foster accessibility – what will always remain, front and center, is the tragic hero who is devoured by the green-eyed monster. In the most recent interpretation at New York Theatre Workshop, director Sam Gold updates the activities to a soldier’s barracks, somewhere very hot, presumably the mid-east. This explains the plywood clad walls, floor, and ceiling by set designer Andrew Lieberman that surround the audience, encompass the actors, and holds the action prisoner so it might linger in your mind. Also, costume design by David Zinn relies on Nike athletic wear, shorts, tee shirts and sportswear leggings to imagine the climate which exists outside of the raw wooden encampment. Eschewing common Fresnel, PAR, and ellipsoidal theater lights, designer Jane Cox concocts unconventional ways of illuminating the action, which rely on total darkness, LED work lights, miners’ headlamps, cell phones and more to spotlight intimacy or flood the precinct with a harsh white glare to enhance powerful conflicts. This creative team is spot on in their collaborative efforts to bring to life Mr. Gold’s progressive rendering, but once this magnificent cast affords the words of this masterpiece, these efforts all but disappear, as the emotional execution of the language erupts to consume all the senses.

Daniel Craig depicts Iago as a coy chameleon like terrorist, changing moods and allegiance and constantly plotting to achieve power and success. He understands and exhibits the ability to convince vulnerable opponents to join his forces without them ever realizing their efforts will only contribute to their own demise. He is a master of deceit, even capable of seducing an audience to fall into his web of treachery. Then there is David Oyelowo who inhabits the role of Othello with every fiber of his being with powerful outbursts of anger, clever intellectual explanations and soothing emotional moments that act as a sedative to the turmoil that swirls around him. He is honest to a fault, understands the capacity to love, never insecure even when swindled and responsible for his actions at every turn. His impassioned performance is haunting and heart rending. Rachel Brosnahan portrays a simple, engaging Desdemona, forthright, faithful and resilient, filled with fortitude. Fleshing out the remaining principal characters are Mathew Maher (a delightful, frivolous, lisping Rodrigo), Finn Whittrock (a determined, disarming Cassio), Marsha Stephanie Blake (a dedicated, focused, fearless Emilia) and Nikki Massoud (a rational but embittered Blanca).

This production stands on its own merit, telling the timeless, tragic, tale of psychological warfare with an unparalleled balance of clarity and emotion. It manages to involve the audience in the action, immerse them in the emotional content, and deliver the poetic language, while never conceding to phenomenalism.