Another centuries-old story gets the hip-hop treatment in Othello: The Remix — but don’t worry, this show isn’t trying to be Hamilton. (And to be fair, creators The Q Brothers have been adapting Shakespeare’s works as rap shows for almost two decades, so don’t accuse them of bandwagon-jumping.)
In this modernized retelling of the Bard’s tragedy, Othello (Postell Pringle) is a hip hop mogul, Iago (GQ) is a bitter, jealous member of Othello’s crew, Cassio (Jackson Doran) is a flirtatious but harmless pop star, and Rodrigo (JQ) is a World of Warcraft-playing dweeb. (Desdemona, an angel-voiced singer, is never seen.)
The four main actors play multiple roles, slipping flat, apron-like costumes and hats over their streetwear to become supporting characters like Bianca (JQ), Emilia (Doran), or just background dancers during another person’s solo. They lean into the comedic side of the tragedy throughout the show, and everyone — including DJ Supernova, who spins onstage — looks like they’re having a blast. Their jubilation is infectious, and the show is slickly peppered with snippets of lyrics by Jay Z and A Tribe Called Quest, along with plenty of winks at Shakespeare tropes (like the way characters continue speaking long after they’re supposed to be dead).
Though some of the jokes are repetitive or go on a bit too long, the play’s quick 80-minute runtime keeps this from becoming a real issue. What’s slightly more concerning is Desdemona: Even in the original play, she’s more of a symbol than an agent of her own will, but here, she’s just a disembodied vocal solo piped through the speakers, reminiscent of the wordless tune Ariel sings in The Little Mermaid to give Ursula her voice. It’s frustrating not to see her or her efforts to defend herself, even though we know how the play must end. Her nonexistence also gives her murder a little less heft — although Pringle’s terrific portrayal of Othello’s descent into madness is enough to make up for the fact that he’s strangling air.
Quibbles aside, Othello: The Remix is a thoroughly entertaining way to spend an evening — and of course, yet another reminder of the ways Shakespeare’s work can be refreshed, even 400 years after his death, if there are nimble minds at the helm. B