National Theatre‘s new staging of Othello, breaths renewed vitality to Shakespeare’s classic tragedy…

Because of the express racial slurs of Shakespeare’s Othello, it is often considered a most-politically incorrect work. As such, we often forget that Othello serves as the primary source material for such lines in our modern canon as “it’s neither here or there,” or “wear my heart upon my sleeve,” or “the green-eyed monster.” Instead, we remember the racial put downs, like “I am one, sir, that comes to tell you your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs.”

But under the skilled hands of Sir Nicholas Hytner, director of this new production and Executive Director of London’s National Theatre, a modern theatrical masterpiece has been crafted for the 21st century. In this new production, color blindness serves to illustrate not an enraged Moor suffering from mental and emotional deficits (Willie S. often used epilepsy as code for physical and mental illness), here, we see before our very eyes a man who “loved not wisely but too well.”

This new production excels in every way. Sir Nicholas Hytner’s staging is genius. Transporting Venice into some modern big-city-warring-state-central, like Washington DC or London, we quickly move to some nondescript Cypriot military garrison, lit on the stage like it descended from some alien ship-pod. After the narrative details are set in place, our duty-bound and war-eager central characters are strategically placed on a desolate island prison sans the anticipated war they were so ready to discharge. Now they have nothing to do, and as such, they begin to war with each other. So the mischief begins.

Vicki Mortimer’s stage design is thoroughly satisfying. All camouflage and concrete. Interior scenes are claustrophobic, set against pods of thrusting and masculine office boxes that surge with phallic energy. Concrete walls move like Japanese shoji screens during a liturgical tea ceremony. The exterior is menacing and closed-in, complete with barbed wire overheads and blaring search lights. Jon Clark’s lighting design is eerily alien and alienating. Nick Powell’s music and Gareth Fry’s sound design seem modern, disorienting, and completely complementary to this modern update.

As fine as the creative team guiding this production stand, the pivotal ingredients to this most-excellent stew are, nonetheless, the two lead actors. Without Rory Kinnear’s Iago to Adrian Lester’s Othello, there simply is no there. Kinnear and Lester are two of the most powerful actors on the modern stage. And here, Kinnear is particularly fine. The delivery of his soliloquies is genius, in diction, cadence, facial grimace and guttural sounds. He delivers them with a relished tick of mischief and bad-boy malice. Impeccable! Now, if only Olivia Vinall’s Desdemona would be recast. Nonetheless, she does not spoil the excellence of this most-spicy brew. Go see it at a theater near you.

Armin’s Grade: A+

Theatre Review by Armin Callo, Influx Contributing Editor

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