Shakespeare's tragedy gets leached and screeched.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>2/5

Peter Sellars’s Othello—one hesitates to call it William Shakespeare’s—is a Pyrrhic victory of directorial sensibility over sense. The production is unmistakably full of ideas, some of them contradictory, half of them interesting, the other half disastrous. Plunked down on a virtually blank stage—with only folding chairs, microphone stands and a vaguely hand-shaped bed of video screens—the cast of eight is put to the impossible task of translating Sellars’s seminar-room intelligence into intelligible drama. This results, predictably, in a whole lot of screaming: Attenuated into four hours, the tragedy progresses as a herky-jerky sequence of screeches and lulls, then sleepwalks to a bloodless anticlimax.

Audiences who remain past intermission at this scrambled-egghead production are likely to grow increasingly frustrated with its self-defeating gestures. Dishonest Iago, played by the fulgurant Philip Seymour Hoffman, is the center of attention throughout, raging and seething like a red-hot volcano—or rather, given his awesomely unflattering costume, like a lime-green sack of potatoes—at what Sellars imagines is his wife’s infidelity. Hoffman too easily overpowers John Ortiz’s recessive Othello and Jessica Chastain’s elegant, brittle Desdemona (the latter a victim of textual sabotage, forced to plead earnestly on behalf of a Cassio who, in this account, is an insolent rapist). Of the supporting cast, only Julian Acosta, as the doltish Roderigo, and Liza Coln--Zayas, as a guilt-ridden Emilia, emerge relatively unscathed; not so the tragedy itself, gutted by Sellars’s ostentatiously “postracial” fudging. Sellars should be commended for trying to bring original thought to Othello; the problem is that the contrarian director—“this counter-caster,” to quote one of Iago’s insults—has done so neither wisely nor too well.—Adam Feldman

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Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. By William Shakespeare. Dir. Peter Sellars. With Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Jessica Chastain. 4hrs. (Yes, 4hrs.) One intermission.