Chicago Shakespeare's OTHELLO: THE REMIX Is Poetic Justice

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Reviewed by: RUSSELL GOELTENBODT

The many stories by William Shakespeare known for their time period works are mostly tragic. They are complete with plotting, murder, mayhem, and poetic verse dialogue. If anyone was to tell me that I was going to see a contemporary RAP version of Shakespeare’s famed “Othello” I don’t know if I would be too quick to accept the invitation. However, I am pleased to say that seeing the American premiere production of “Othello: The Remix” was a very enjoyable experience. This ingenious production is created and directed by two young aspiring playwrights, and performers JQ and GQ. These young men who recreated this classic in present-day, transformed the poetic dialogue to contemporary Rap verse. Now when I say Rap, it is not the Rap that you would hear in clubs by current Rap artists talking about sex, killing, and inappropriate behavior. “Othello: The Remix” is so much more. The Rap I am describing takes the Shakespeare poetry, and combines it with a DJ’s beat to create a unique interpretation of this classic.  The performance moves at a great pace, and it is clever, understandable and enjoyable.

The original version of Shakespeare’s Othello takes place during wartime between the Venetians and the Turks.  Othello, (a hired general in the Venetian army), is a Moor in love with his wife, Desdemona, who he had secret married. Othello is sabotaged by his would be comrade Iago, who hates the Moor. Iago uses Othello’s good friend Casio in a plot to convince Othello that Desdemona is unfaithful with Casio. The tragic result is that the betrayed Othello kills Desdemona believing that she is unfaithful. Iago then convinces Rodrigo to kill Casio. Iago’s wife Emilia is killed for knowing and revealing the truth of her husband’s plot. After learning the truth from Emilia, Othello, then kills himself.  All of this is the result of Iago’s jealousy of Othello.

“Othello: The Remix” transports Othello (Postell Pringle) to present day where Othello escapes the ghetto giving rhythm and voice to the stories of the people in his hood. As Othello rises in the music industry, he is the living proof of the “American Dream”. Othello falls in love with Desdemona who is a beautiful singer whose vocals add the final piece to raise Othello to stardom. The rest of Othello’s crew include Casio (Jackson Doran), a pop music rapper, and Iago (GQ) a hardcore underground lyricist and hip hop purist, and Rodrigo ( JQ) a nerdy, socially awkward lighting designer on tour.   “Othello: The Remix” creates a refreshing contemporary spin to the original story.  Aside from the main characters, Jackson, GQ, and JQ play multiple parts where the transitions to the additional characters are seamless and sometimes humorous. The rhythmic dialogue set to DJ (Clayton Stamper’s) beat provides an interesting interpretation of Shakespeare’s original story. The direction and choreography are very tight. The actors are very well rehearsed and understandable, making the production flow easily. “Othello: The Remix is well-paced, sophisticated, and at times, very funny.

The Q Brothers, GQ and JQ, are siblings born and raised in Chicago, who started their professional careers in the off Broadway hit, The Bomb-itty of Errors. Othello: The Remix, written and directed with music by the Q Brothers, is the first Shakespeare tragedy and second collaboration with CST Creative Producer Rick Boynton. Boynton was also involved in the creation of the Q Brothers’ award-winning CST commission, Funk It Up About Nothin’, which received critical acclaim in its world premiere at Chicago Shakespeare and subsequent international tour to New York, Australia and the UK. As part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad’s ‘Globe to Globe’ festival at Shakespeare’s Globe, Othello: The Remix received its world premiere as one of 37 companies from around the world presenting Shakespeare’s entire canon, each performed in a different language. It was the only production in the festival from North America and was greeted with critical acclaim and sold-out houses. The European tour continued to Germany’s Shakespeare Festival in Globe Neuss and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe where the Musical Theatre Matters Awards honored the production with Best Musical and Best Lyrics Awards, and the Stage Awards for Acting Excellence nominated the company for Best Ensemble Award.

It is so impressive to see young artists pursue their dream, work hard and are fortunate enough to receive the recognition and acclaim that they deserve.  Ultimately, it is equally gratifying to have it grow into a huge success. Aside from their unique talent and international success, they are fortunate to have the support of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater community and supporters.

In addition to the Q Brothers, the cast of Othello: The Remix includes Jackson Doran, Postell Pringle and DJ, Clayton Stamper, who create a tightly knit production. Along with the Q brothers, their on stage chemistry is believable and entertaining.

The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is a leading international theater company, known for vibrant productions that reflect Shakespeare’s genius for intricate storytelling, musicality of language and depth of feeling for the human condition. Recipient of the Regional Theatre Tony Award, Chicago Shakespeare’s work has been recognized internationally with three of London’s prestigious Laurence Olivier Awards, and by the Chicago theater community with 70 Joseph Jefferson Awards for Artistic Excellence. Under the leadership of Artistic Director Barbara Gaines and Executive Director Criss Henderson, CST is dedicated to producing extraordinary classic productions, new works and family fare, unlocking Shakespeare’s work for educators and students, and serving as Chicago’s cultural ambassador through its World Stage Series. “Othello: The Remix” is a refreshing production that is very fortunate to be presented at a fabulous prestigious

venue, such as the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. “Othello: The Remix” is another successful production that is now added to the many Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s credits of successful productions they have produced.

I strongly recommend seeing “Othello: The Remix”. I would definitely say the younger generation would extremely enjoy this production. However, the older set in the audience found it enjoyable as well. “Othello: The Remix” has a unique spin on a classic Shakespeare production. Combined with the extreme writing and performance talent of the Q brothers, it becomes a brilliant contemporary interpretation of Othello. It is evident that the Q brothers have the support and talent of fellow cast members Postell Pringle, Jackson Doran, and DJ Clayton Stamper. This ensemble provides strength to this great production. I sincerely wish all of these young men continued success. I know that we will see many more great successful productions from all of them in the future.

Othello: The Remix plays through April 28, 2013 at the Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.  For more information visit www.ChicagoShakes.com.   For calendar information visit www.TheatreInChicago.com