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Othello: The Remix

We four fellas,
humble story tellers,
Will weave
the tale
of a man
who gets jealous.

 Othello: The Remix
GQ, Postell Pringle, Jackson Doran and JQ (Carol Rosegg )
My colleague Les Gutman and I are several generations apart we more often than not agree on what's good and what isn't. Still, 16 years ago, his enthusiasm for The Bomb-itty of Errors , a hip-hop take on one of Will Shakespeare's zaniest comedies, The Comedy of Errors, didn't quite persuade me that this was a new musical comedy for all ages. Shakespeare in rap-rhyme? Hip-hop music at an acceptable decibel level? Could my always sensible associate have gone slightly overboard in urging me to "try it, you'll like it?"

Well my trusty colleague was right. Bomb-itty of Errors proved to be a one-of-a-kind tribute to the enduring adaptability of Shakespeare, with enough imagination and energy to restore one's faith in the creative power of the so-called dumbed-down generation. And while the audience at the performance I attended consisted largely of Generation X couples, the older folks who were scattered here and there had a great time. That included me. And not one of us covered our ears. In fact, I very much enjoyed the music and the lilt and tilt of the rap lines.

Now this inventive team is back, this time even more daringly so since the play being given the hip-hop treatment is one of Shakespeare's more serious plays. But then why not. After all, with hip-hop elevated to iconic, more mainstream status courtesy of Hamilton, why not bring the jealous Moor into the hip-hop world?

Actually by the time it arrived at the Westside Theatre this rap-daptation had already proved its viability with numerous productions elsewhere. Consequently, the bottom line now is: The remix deserves all the praises it's already received.

The Q Brothers have effectively and entertainingly transposed Othellos's story into modern rhyme. And though they've let Shakespeare's general morph into a hip-hop mogul, they've remained true to the narrative even though it all plays out in a fast-paced 80 minutes.

Besides writing, composing and directing, the talented GQ and JQ (they really are brothers), they each play several roles, as does Jackson Doran. The title role is portrayed with verve and genuine emotional depth by Postell Pringle.

The only other person on stage is DJ Supernova who supplies the pulsating music He's in his post before the show starts to warm up the audience and that's the only time I felt as if I were at a too loud concert. Once the show gets underway, the music keeps its solidly ear pleasing, if somewhat too repetitive beat. But it's never so loud that it drowns out the story telling lyrics.

The "remix" also means that plenty of comedy has been mixed into the story telling, but then Shakespeare wrote plenty of comic characters into his dramas. Othello: the Remix gets most of its laughs from the split second timing with which the cast switches roles, using only bib-like costumes and wigs to clarify their identity.

The four guys are constantly on the move with smoothly synchronized dance routines and peppering their rap couplets with lots of cultural references. While JQ an Doran handily take on the female roles of Bianca an Emilia, Desdemona appears only as a recorded voice. Yet Pringle's Othello makes her very much a presence as his muse and beloved, and finally the victim of the jealousy ignited by the GQ's nasty Iago. GQ also has a nice turn as Desdemona's father, who disapproves of his "lily-white" daughter marrying a ghetto raised black guy, the only oddly neglected reference to the play's racial issues —but hey, this is Othello trimmed to half it's usual size.

If you think Desdemona's being heard but not seen would make it impossible to effectively stage the famous smothering scene. Wrong. It's this Othello's most musically and emotionally powerful scene. We see only a bed and a pillow but when Othello lifts that pillow, and the rest of the cast forms a chorus around him it's a Wow!

Clever as the Q Brothers' couplets are, they're not the Bard's poetry. Therefore, since a traditional Othello is currently running at New York Theatre Workshop (see our annotated Off-Broadway listings for details) with a starry cast (James Craig of James Bond fame is Iago), why not treat yourself to Othello without as well as with the Remix.

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Othello: The Remix
Written, composed and directed by GQ (Gregory James Quaiyum) and JQ (Jeffery Ameen Qaiyum) and developed with Rick Boynton. An 80-minute, high-energy spin on Bardian tragedy. Cast: GQ (Iago/Brabantio), JQ (Roderigo/Loco Vito/Bianca), Jackson Doran (Cassio/Emilia), Postell Pringle (Othello) and DJ Supernova (DJ).
Scenic Design:Scott Adams Davis
Costumes: Christina Leinicke
Lighting: Keith A. Trueax
Sound:Dave Ferdinand/One Dream
Stage Manager: Lionel A.Christian
Running Time: 80 minutes
Westside Theatre 407 W. 43rd 212-239-6200.
. Tuesdays at 7 pm; Wednesdays at 2 & 8 pm; Thursdays at 7 pm; Fridays at 7 pm; Saturdays at 2 & 8 pm; and Sundays at 2 pm.
From 10/25/16; opening 11/16/16; closing 3/5/17--changed, now closing 1/15/17.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at November 19th matinee

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