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Othello

"Damn her, lewd minx! O, damn her!
Come, go with me apart; I will withdraw.
To furnish me with some swift means of death
For the fair devil. Now art thou my lieutenant.
Othello
I am your own for ever.
Iago " Act III, scene iii

Written: 1604

Oyun Atölyesi ; March 14, 2005 Ankara, Turkey
Starring :
Reviewed on : 2005-03-15 10:02:30 ; Reviewed by : Antonia Mandry

Poster for Oyun Atölyesi's Othello
The Oyun Atölyesi Company's production of Othello was taken from Orhan Burian's 1940 verse-free translation. Burian himself was a great intellect, having studied at Cambridge and then returned to Turkey to become a professor of English Language and Literature at Ankara University. Listening to his translation, I was amazed at how easy I found it to understand, something I did not experience with an earlier production of Can Yücel's translation of The Tempest. I was able to concentrate on the acting and the production and was frankly disappointed. My concern is over acting choices and directing choices and whether this was informed wholely by the culture, or primarily by the mind of a unique director.

Kemal Aydoğan's production ran for two days, the 14/15 of March, at the Şinasi Sahnesi in Ankara. Aydoğan (founder of Oyun Atölyesi) concentrated mainly on the relationship between Othello, Desdemona and Iago as stripped from any racial considerations. Othello, as played by Emre Karayel, was a raging animal who even in his "sane" moments was beastly in his lust, crawling over Desdemona like a dog over raw meat. He speaks as he acts, quickly and passionately. Equally disturbing was the fact that his jealousy stemmed from his insanity. No normal man changed by jealousy was this Othello, but a psychologically disturbed man primed for a fall. Further, Desdemona was remarkably passive in this version submitting to everything, from her husbands advances (something she seemed to enjoy) to his abuse (something she didn't) with equal passivity. This is underscored by the very fact that Emilia even dresses her for the evening while she stands there unmoving. The most dramatic difference in acting however was how the character of Iago was handled. Iago has been portrayed as a vile villain, a frustrated soldier, a frustrated lover, a pathetic back-stabbing manipulator -- but this is the first time he has been portrayed as a stuttering clown, a foolish buffoon and a grinning gnome. Bariş Yıldız, with his wild hair and stooped posture, inhabits his ill-fitting costume with discomfort. Every extreme gesture of Othello's startles him and every giggle of Rodrigo's fascinates him. This malevolent Canio, this "iyi"ago ("good" Iago), interacts with Roderigo as a Hardy to his Laurel. His power is drained by this interpretation and so does our fear of him and our sympathy for Othello, who must be really dim indeed to be so duped. Indeed their relationship is ridiculous, with bonding over a dramatic game of thumb-o-war. Cassio comes out somewhat better and he's quickly becoming my favorite character of the play with a fascinating part to play as the straight arrow who can't let himself be bent for fear of tragedy.

Also missing from this play was the question of Othello's religion, something that many productions overlook. Othello is a Moor (an African Muslim) and yet can quote the Scriptures with aplomb (something he does to validate his murder of Desdemona); some people have used this as proof that he is a converted Christian. Of course, Muslims in general know the Scriptures as they believe the People of the Book are on the right path, they just haven't proceeded along it far enough. Thus, Othello, as a Muslim, would know something of the stories of the Bible. Aydoğan's production does not address the religion issue at all, perhaps assuming that the religion is unimportant since this is a personal tragedy against the backdrop of larger politics. From a Turkish perspective, I would assume an immediate interest in this play for a number of reasons: the Turks call this "The Cyprus Tragedy" and see themselves as represented as a vague threat which Othello has just vanquished.

Some of the set choices and staging gave a glimmer of hope: the set consisted of 8 wooden chairs in different forms ringed around the stage. No actor seemed to ever exit but instead retired to a chair with appropriate dramatic lighting. Costumes for the men consisted of different colored military jackets over grey striped pants. Desdemona was constantly in white and in her death scene seemed to fade into the white linen-covered rocking chair as Othello rocked it into an orgasm and strangled her with her own hair a la Porphyria's Lover.

Finally, although this production had several interesting and brave ideas, ultimately the result was an utter disgust for most of the characters and thus an inability to invest in them.

Sir John Gilbert, R.A.,
Othello and Iago

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