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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
OTHELLO
at New York Theatre Workshop

MAN OF TWO FACES
By BRIAN SCOTT LIPTON


Shakespearean productions usually have their own benchmarks, and in the case of William Shakespeare’s Othello, it’s just how much you believe that the title character can so easily be duped into betraying his true love, Desdemona, by the machinations of his supposed best friend, Iago. By that yardstick alone, Sam Gold’s production of the Bard’s tragedy, now at New York Theatre Workshop, is a true success as we watch filmdom’s 007 himself, Daniel Craig, hand in a career-defining performance as the malevolent, malicious Iago. Who knew this ultimate good guy could be so bad!

Unfortunately, this inventive director too often makes odd, distracting staging choices that lessen the impact of all the fine acting work on stage, from placing everything on a dull all-wood unit set of an army barracks (by Andrew Lieberman) to having the opening scene spoken in complete darkness, to having many of the ensemble members loll about half-naked, strumming guitars, or otherwise pulling focus to no discernible effect. Furthermore, the modern-dress costumes (by David Zinn), heavy on gym shorts and other activewear, are not overly attractive, especially for a show that runs over three hours.

Fortunately, Craig is never less than fascinating. What’s so particularly interesting about Craig’s interpretation is how, a man of two different faces, Craig’s Iago shares his hatred of Othello (a highly forceful if occasionally overwrought David Oyelowo) – and practically everyone else in his orbit – with the audience freely and without shame. But to everyone else in his world, including his outspoken wife Emilia (a very fine Marsha Stephanie Blake), hapless pal Roderigo (Matthew Maher) and Othello’s mostly upstanding lieutenant Michael Cassio (the handsome, stalwart Finn Wittrock) – he seems like such an ordinary, sort-of-nice guy that they would never imagine capable of the dastardly deeds and acts he sets in motion.

Therefore, it’s no real surprise that no one ever figures out Iago’s true endgame, which is making Othello insanely jealous of his super-sweet and utterly faithful wife Desdemona (a charming Rachel Bosnahan) by slowly, surely convincing the hot-tempered “moor” that Desdemona has betrayed him sexually with Cassio. As his deception leads to its inevitable end, Craig’s Iago shows not the least remorse. He’s a man fully at peace with his own actions, no matter how monstrous the consequences. In the end, the fact that almost everyone on stage calls him “Honest Iago” – a moniker that we know is so incredibly false – is true in its own way. Craig’s Iago is never less than honest with himself.

 


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