Iago; You Go; He, She, or It Goes: Evil has three heads in Synetics Othello. s Othello.

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=In any production of Othello, most theatergoers expect that the jealous Moor will be outmaneuvered by his ensign Iago. But had it occurred to you that he might also be outnumbered by him? Early in Synetic Theater’s ingeniously re-imagined—and, in the company’s usual style for Shakespeare, entirely wordless—tale of jealousy run amok, a wild-eyed Iago plunges headlong into a mirror and finds that he, along with the mirror, has splintered into shards—one menacing and creepy (Philip Fletcher), one sexy and seductive (Alex Mills), and one feminine and Lady Macbeth–ish (Irina Tsikurishvili). Blending briefly into a cool-looking three-headed monster before going his variously duplicitous ways, this Tripliago can now whisper lies simultaneously to Othello (Roger Payano), his beloved Desdemona (Salma Shaw), and Cassio (Scott Brown), the loyal lieutenant who will be thrust between them against his will. And that’s hardly the evening’s only surprise. Director Paata Tsikurishvili and co-adapter Nathan Weinberger open the show not with military powerhouse Othello strutting amongst Venetian nobles, but with slave Othello in chains, escaping from African masters after they beat his girlfriend to death (she gives him that fateful handkerchief as she’s dying), and then being rescued by Iago and other Venetian soldiers. Proving himself in battle, the ex-slave gets elevated in rank past all his fellows and Iago splinters in fury—and therein hangs the tale. Think of it as what Shakespeare might have done if he hadn’t had to get through all those pesky words. As always with Synetic, visuals reign—in this instance the writhings and leaps of admirably hard-bodied performers, augmented by projections from nifty cellphone-sized devices that allow Iago to photograph Cassio and Desdemona in what appear to be compromising situations, then beam their images onto everything from angled panels to Othello’s bedsheets to Desdemona’s nightgown, so that Othello sees what he thinks are a rival’s hands everywhere, including on his beloved’s body. (These visuals lend new meaning to that line about “making the beast with two backs.”) Andrew F. Griffin’s eerily shadowed lighting; Anastasia Simes’ black, white, and scarlet costumes and setting; and Konstantine Lortkianidze’s percussive, occasionally loopy score (each time Vato Tsikurishvili’s comically lovesick Roderigo shows up, the music shifts to reset the tone) all help make a familiar story freshly explosive. With so much going on—and without the words that articulate Othello’s thrall to that “green-eyed monster,” jealousy—Payano’s imposing (and impressively ripped) Moor must sometimes struggle to retain his place at the center of things. His relationship with Iago isn’t the driving force in this version that it is in Shakespeare’s, but if the untrustworthy ensign steals focus, well, isn’t that always the case? I remember going years ago to see James Earl Jones as a great bull of an Othello and coming away thinking only of how Christopher Plummer had buzzed gnatlike around him until he couldn’t think straight. Here, with three Iagos buzzing, the poor Moor doesn’t stand a chance—but man, does he put up a good fight.