Just as the Bard used other's stories as inspiration for his tragedies, today's writers/producers are always in the market for great stories they can use and/or abuse and call their own. Purists scream, but even they inevitably put the stamp of invention on plays that were written 500 years ago, which they've never seen in the original. Zombie Joe and The Watchdog have reinvented the tragedy of Othello to fit their off-center, riotously conceived ethic that yields to no particular genre. In the hands of these irreverent artists, this production comes closest to what can only be called Rude Theatre. Shakespeare, who had his own bawdy thoughts, is probably giggling uncontrollably under his tombstone at ZJU's unauthorized collaboration.
Although the theme of the Moor and his righteous wife forms the core of this production, and the actors are as at home with the original text as they are with the new, the ambience is the flavor of the extreme scene at a 21st century fashion show in Milan, where "the photographers will snap us, and we will be seen in the smart magazines." The Grand Guignol amorality of today's high-fashion advertising slides right into this bloody tale of jealousy, spite, and murder, hardly out of place except for its contemporary rap-infused idiom. This company is about entertainment, and when not cringing with secret shock, or delighting at a manifestation of man's wickedest fantasies, the audience is laughing uncontrollably at the adorable silliness of this bunch of colorfully mad people holding us hostage.
T. Arthur Cottam takes exotic control as the despicable Iago, a gender-bent snake with a very forked tongue, more than a bit enamored of Othello, his General (is the powerfully imperious Rainey K. Taylor a female under those grand robes?), and more than a bit jealous of Desdemona (the lovely Tracey Rooney), the coolest of chicks. Jim Eshom is an appealing hunk as a gender-undecided Cassio; Amanda Kalaydjian and Jenn Page as the part madonna/part whores, Emilia and Bianca, are seductive and fine. Robert A. Lane and Matthew Sklar are, respectively, Roderigo and Montano. Especially effective is John Falchi as the Photographer (the Clown in Shakespeare's version), who stages the erotic fashion sequences while actively participating in them.
This group has a quality and a style that bear watching. Even operating as they are on a miniscule stage, with obvious budgetary restrictions, their whipped-together show has the seeds of infinite possibilities that a leisurely revisit could shape into something quite challenging, even important--if not exactly Shakespeare, at least compelling dazzle.