‘Othello’ interpretation puts spin on classic tale

Photo courtesy of Michael Boatright

Upon walking into the DramaTech Theater, a cynical student might think that he or she wasted a good $8 on some crummy read through of Shakespeare’s “Othello” — a “first read-through” as stated by the director. Solo cups and crumpled papers are strewn about the dusty floor, and the set is unpolished and practically non-existent.

There is no real stage, save for a small black box that could hardly fit two people in a swordplay scene. It does not seem like it will get any better when the actors and actresses walk nonchalantly onto the stage, clad in normal college student clothing, reading off of their highlighted scripts, with the occasional pronunciation correction from the director, Keith Hinze, almost as if it truly was their first read-through.

However, even the most cynical of minds would be taken by surprise by director Keith Hinze’s interpretation of “Othello.” In a modern Shakespearian twist, the DramaTech play starts as a dreary run-through and, much like the story within a story of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein,” gradually becomes a play within a play — or rather a play within a read-through — making it feel as though the audience was peering into the imagination of each of the actors and each conducted his or her read-through.

As the play progressed, the actors and actresses transformed into their characters — not only by their mannerisms but also with their props and clothing — although the set pieces remained sparse. It was not until the end of the play, during the most climactic scene of “Othello,” that the first new set prop —  the over-hang for Desdemona’s deathbed — was lowered down.

The gradual conversion to a full-blown play was subtle yet powerful, leaving the audience in silence for 30 seconds after the last scene, where the scope of the play went back to the outer-frame of the “read-through.” The unexpectedness of the final outcome of the “read-through” combined with Shakespeare’s profound and introspective play made a rather moving impression on the entire audience — some of whom were moved to tears.

In addition to performing the play as a run-through, DramaTech also managed to transform Othello into a mini multi-genre musical, complete with beat-boxing, rapping, singing and even the playing of kazoos to the tune of Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” — a feat they managed to pull off with audience participation.

Despite the fact that the play included kazoos, getting drunk off of Mountain Dew and some intense rapping (because that is what Shakespeare intended — the play is in iambic pentameter), the original significance of the play was certainly not lost in this rendition of “Othello.”

The play was, in fact, enhanced by this rendition — the violence and hatred derived from Othello’s jealousy, Desdemona’s love turned to fear, Emilia’s detrimental loyalty to Iago and Iago’s scheming ways all accurately reflected Shakespeare’s original “Othello” and it’s deeper implications.

Audience members do not need to be Shakespeare diehards to understand the play — although a little background information would be undeniably useful in understanding some of the performance’s earlier scenes, which were given without any accompanying acting. The unpredictably of the plot makes for a play that is somewhat difficult to follow, but this complexity is to be expected of Shakespeare. Furthermore, without defining costumes, actors playing multiple characters were often confusing to identify.

The most significant detractor in DramaTech’s rendition of Othello was that Roderigo was played by more than one actor. Given that most of the actors were playing more than one character, it was already slightly taxing to keep up with who was who in each scene. However, with multiple actors playing Roderigo, effectively confusing the audience, it was much more difficult to understand with whom it was that Iago was supposed to be conspiring.

Despite this confusion caused by the multiple Roderigos, DramaTech has once again put on an amazing performance. DramaTech proved that a play does not require a fancy set or elaborate props in order to be spectacular.

With engaged actors who either put an immense amount of effort into preparing the play or are extraordinarily talented, a solid direction and a good plot courtesy of Shakespeare, DramaTech was able to pull off one of Shakespeare’s timeless classics with a modern twist.

DramaTech’s “Othello” is being performed Nov. 5–7 and Nov. 12–14 and is definitely a must watch this semester.