Director Zack Brenner put the cast of Polarity Ensemble Theatre's OTHELLO in masks to show what goes skin deep—and what goes deeper. “Othello's tragedy is that he does not see past the surfaces people present to him,” Brenner said. “He believes 'a man should be what he seems.' That short-sightedness allows the villain, Iago, to trick him into destroying his own life and everything he loves. Our production puts Othello's perceptions into a physical form via masks and stylized movement. A character can be played by more than one actor because the character is the mask and the pose. Our cast works as an ensemble to match the style of mask and acting technique to the individual character. They select from techniques of Japanese theatre (Suzuki and Kabuki), LaBon, Chekov, Commedia Dell'arte, Classic Greek, and European Masquerade.”
Brenner created an OTHELLO unlike any audiences had seen before. To prepare themselves, he and Producer Abigail Trabue traveled to Japan this summer to study traditional Japanese theatre.
“We are incorporating a variety of international techniques because in many ways, OTHELLO is about a clash of foreign identities,” Producer Trabue said. “Othello the Moor marries a European. He is surrounded by a culture, by a wife and by a trusted counselor who is bent on destroying him. His inability to see past these foreign surfaces defeats him.”
Even the theatre space was selected with an eye to style. “The experience of OTHELLO in mask will begin for audiences the moment they enter the theatre lobby,” Brenner said. “It's a total experience, from start of finish, and it's about movement, choreography, voice, mask, and environment, all propelling Shakespeare's story in a way it's not been done before. We are very excited to be doing this in the incredibly intimate space at the Side Project Theatre. It offers us the opportunity to work at a level of subtlety that is very rare.”
Shakespeare's OTHELLO in mask ran November 10th through December 10th, 2006 at The Side Project Theatre, 1439 West Jarvis, Chicago.
Performances were Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 3 pm.