Othello The Remix Review: A Rap Adaptation

Othello vs IagoThe question hanging over Othello The Remix, 80 minutes of often entertaining and inventive raps written, composed, directed by and co-starring the Q Brothers, is how much it has to do with Shakespeare’s tragedy. A strong hint comes out of Othello’s mouth from his very first line:

“I gotta lotta drama, hotter than Madonna in a sauna
when she let you do a body shot of vodka on her. “

So, not Shakespeare’s language.

Now, The Remix certainly works as a fast-paced rap concert, with dramatic lighting and a fine dj spinning while four delightful performers spit out witty couplets and  execute synchronized choreography. But what makes it “Othello”?

Well, the plots are parallel, more or less, although there’s been some…updating. Othello is no longer a Christian Moor who’s become a powerful general in the armies of Venice; he is a “child of the ghetto” who’s become a rich and famous rapper. Desdemona, his wife, is a singer. Iago is a rapper in Othello’s crew, but he’s been pushed aside in favor of the more popular Cassio, whom Iago dismisses contemptuously as a “candy rapper” who belongs in a boy band. This envy is what motivates him, as in the 400-year-old play, to seek revenge.

Before dismissing this remix in the way Iago does Cassio, some background: The Q Brothers are in fact brothers – GQ (Gregory James Qaiyum) has been working as a professional actor on stage and screen for more than 15 years; he has collaborated just as long with his beat boxing dj younger brother JQ (Jeffery Ameen Qaiyum), on everything from the MTV series “Scratch & Burn” to several well-received rap adaptations of the Bard’s comedies, “Funk It Up About Nothin’” and “The Bomb-itty of Errors.” “Othello the Remix” was commissioned in 2012 by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London and has been performed internationally and in Chicago. It is the Q Brothers first foray into Shakespearean tragedy.

And therein lies the rub.

Postell Pringle is a powerfully-voiced Othello who credibly descends into jealousy and rage. But the other three men play multiple parts, and have fun with them.   JQ is super-nerdy Roderigo as well as Loco Vito (renamed from Lodovico in the play), who is the head of First Folio Records. This is one of several satisfying inside jokes.  JQ and Jackson Doran also play female characters, in silly half-costumes. This helps signal that what we’re watching is a comedy, or a parody…. certainly not a tragedy. The weirdest choice is to cast Desdemona as a disembodied voice. We don’t see her; we only hear her in voiceover. It’s choices like this that rob us of the full force of Othello’s wrongful actions, and the full horror in his realization of what he’s done

We yearn for Shakespeare’s words. Instead, Othello raps:

All this death and it’s all because of me.
Now I see clear what I was seein’ fuzzily.

To be fair, there are moments – such as Othello’s final, deeply felt rap – that indicate the Q Brothers are surely capable of adapting a tragedy in such a way as to move and even enlighten us…if that’s what they really want to do. “Othello The Remix” doesn’t convince me that they do.

Othello The Remix

Westside Theater Downstairs

Written and directed by the Q Brothers, based on William Shakespeare

Set by Scott Davis, costume design by Christine Leinicke, lighting by Keith A Truax, sound design by Dave Ferdinand

Cast: Postell Pringle, GQ, JQ, Jackson Doran, DJ Supernova

Tickets: $85

Running time: 80 minutes no intermission

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Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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