« The Bereaved by Thomas Bradshaw, directed by May Adrales, Partial Comfort Productions | Main | The Foundry Theatre's Provenance of Beauty, A South Bronx Travelogue by Claudia Rankine, Created by Melanie Joseph and Claudia Rankine »

September 18, 2009


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Shakespeare's Othello with Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz and Jessica Chastain, directed by Peter Sellars, The Public Theater and Labyrinth Theater Company:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

What a profound pleasure it was to experience this play. The cast did good service to Shakespeare – his words. They were well spoken and crystal clear – not pompously – but the plain speak English in which they were meant. It, the language, was so real that my thoughts went back to the beginning of the 17th century when it was first performed. How excited must the groundling have been that afternoon in the Globe. The contemporary dress and mannerisms, including the cell phone, added to the play – for this served to underscore the timeliness of this great work of art. One troubling thought was who was the model for Iago – Shakespeare must have known some one – some ones, who were amoral – was he ever hurt or did he know someone who was hurt by the prototype Iago?

Yvonne Korshak's thpughtful reviews are always a pleasure to read---even when I disagree! I found the disconnect between Shakespeare's language and the acting style and modernist touches, such as the cell phone, disagreeable. While I thought the actors performed well, I found their more-or less New York speaking accent jarring. I believe that producers should choose actors who physically suggest the characters---this slim, light-sknned Othello did not---nor did the pot-bellied Iago. I didn"t like parts that were added, not written by Shakespeare,the beginning, for example. Generally speaking I do not like modern dress for period plays, and Iago in a turtle neck did not change my mind. I suspect my differing response betrays my age ---which I won't reveal! Or maybe I can't forget seeing Othello with Paul Robeson.

This was a train wreck. LOTS of people left at the intermission. The intermission was 2 hours into the play. To someone not deeply familiar with the play, this presentation violated the "tell me a story" premise that theater goers basically expect. One had to adjust to so many aspects of the production - virtually no scenery, inconsistently appropriate costumes, bright lights shining in the audience's eyes, a microphone transmitter strapped to Desdemona's leg, etc. - that the story was lost. And the seats are very uncomfortable. And by the way, the Skirball Center people will let you come and go during the performance as much as you like, in case you needed further distractions from following Elizabethan English in iambic pentameter, even if it is written brilliantly.

This production will end in October. Fortunately it will be over and hopefully lost to the mists of time. The next time we see that a Peter Sellars production is coming up, we will know to run screaming from the room.

Really glad to have your point of view and so clearly and fully expressed!  I noticed some didn't like the production ... left at the intermission, etc.  There's another commenter who felt a lot like you did and I hope you got to read it.  This was definitely a 'pushing the envelope' way to think about the play and I can sure understand how others might feel about it.  Different strokes ...  But So Good to have multiple view points.  THANKS!!!  Yvonne

Yvonne Korshak

I am commenting long after the fact b/c after seeing another inferior production I was doing a search for ANYONE else who grasped what was going on in this production, which I think has ruined me for all other Othellos, and found you. I suspect that most of this production's critics are poorly versed in Shakespeare (and well versed in jumping on bandwagons)--they seem for the most part to have gotten hung up on the reimagining of plot points, which anyone who has seen much S at all knows to be common practice, and which is in my view well advised in the service of a larger goal. Here, that goal was to flush out the sexism and moral corruption that rules Iago's hopeless world--infects the world of the play--and helps oil the wheels of the machine Iago uses to bring Othello down. And, less obvious/controversial but even more ingenious, the subtext of Iago's existence in opposition to Desdemona--his near-obsession with her as the embodiment of what he can never be, of all the meaning that will remain outside his grasp--just brilliant. (The big lighted platforms I could take or leave.)
What's most important: Both Hoffman and Ortiz revealed the emotional and intellectual lives of their characters with an acuity that I wonder if we will see again. You may get an interesting Iago, or an interesting Othello (interesting FROM THE BEGINNING!--from the meaty but much-steamrolled-over "her father lov'd me" speech). Both at once seems to be an unreasonable expectation.
It's terrible, and destructive to valuable things, that so many people incapable of feeling and thinking their way through a performance so enjoy talking about it.

I was very glad to read your comment and agree with you on most points. For me, as said I didn't feel Ortiz quite conveyed the monumentality of the character though I appreciated his subtlety and, as you say, acuity. I hope you won't give up, though, on seeing their level of accomplishment again -- you never know what next wonderful thing is coming around the bend! Bandwagonism -- oh yes, how frustrating. That's part of why I write my blog -- I feel I can stay independent-minded (and here's hoping I'm not deceiving myself!) I'm really glad you wrote. Thanks a lot, Yvonne

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)