Synetic’s Othello at the Kennedy Center, Family Theater
Based on the play by William Shakespeare
Adapted by Paata Tsikurishvili and Nathan Weinberger.
Commentary by Grace Cavalieri
I wonder if Shakespeare could ever have imagined his work was so good that it needed no text. That is the astonishment of the Synetic Theater’s work, an idea especially provoked by its current production, OTHELLO. The plot is of a Black slave (Roger Payano)captured in battle in Venice promoted to General, who loves and marries Desdemona (Salma Shaw.) Iago, his ensign, one of the most diabolical creatures in all of Shakespeare, seethes and rages in jealousy of Othello. The performance opens with Iago, a lone figure on stage from which all evil will multiply and begin. Then Synetic creates motion. Bodies dance, hurl through the air, fight, defy space and time. Movement, carries the story forward.
How can a director create the manipulation and all-consuming evil of IAGO in one character? He cannot, so he makes Iago 3 characters coming to life in a magnificent mirror scene (Philip Fletcher, Irvina Tsikurishvili, Alex Mills.)These 3 are sometimes at odds with one another but are unified enough to manipulate their world and eventually destroy it x3. (They at one point plot others’ fates on a chessboard.)
If you are a visual artist, feast your eyes on the white, black and red costumes and the same colors in lighting that tell the story of love and rage. If you are a builder of things, then watch the diagonal shapes on stage become pinions of power, change into different compositions, become constructivist art. If you are a poet marvel at how this kind of art and vision is everything in the world that matters and all else is outside it.
Light is a character. Sound is a character. Motion defies time and space while describing it. No gesture is incidental.
Back to the story: Iago persuades Othello that Cassio (Scott Brown) is sleeping with Desdemona. Othello loses the handkerchief that was his first gift of love to Desdemona which symbolizes their relationship. Iago asks his innocent wife Emilia (Irina Koval) to steal it. Iago plants it with Cassio as proof of his “affair.”Rumors and fears in this production are shown as projected overexposed images moved by the actors’ own hands. In this way the psychological becomes visible, in fleeting distorted seconds.
We all know that Othello smothers Desdemona in the end, and wounds Iago, and then kills himself. Yet, you will never see it done this way again. Othello lifts Desdemona up and up, higher and higher, choking her into the stare of her death, then he impales her on a wall, and so she stays -- the symbol of beauty in the grandeur of death. An artifact of all that has gone wrong.
Throughout the play's text, there are many significant interactions with other characters but there are no humorous subplots in Shakespeare’s “Othello” to lighten the steady grind to human pain and ruin. This is why Synetic had to put humor in, gleefully eloquent in grimace and wit: this tragedy is now star-lit with irony and humor.
If leaving the Family Theater you notice the bank of computers at the rear, you may understand why technical wizardry does not go off course. If you have ever taken Shakespeare’s genius for granted, go here. And see how genius is multiplied.
Directed by Paata Tsikurishvili: choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili; set and costume design by Anastasia R. Simes; original music by Konstantine Lortkipanidze; lighting Design by Andrew F. Griffin. Playing through July 3. 800.444.1324. www.synetictheater.org
Grace Cavalieri is a playwright and a poet. She produces “The Poet and the Poem from the Library of Congress” for public radio.