The Temple Independent Theater Company s latest experiment is a lavish production of meek content
CAIRO: In their reworking of the Othello parable, directors Ahmed El-Attar and Nevine El-Ibiary pose an interesting question: Is the Moor tragically doomed even without the interference of Iago?
Unfortunately, their production is not fit to provide the answer. Few of Shakespeare s villains have been rendered with such sophistication; Iago s diabolism is impressive and he spryly adjusts his machinations to immediate circumstance to achieve his nefarious ends. In this play, only a binary opposition of religious polemicists gives us access to his chauvinistic attitudes and talk of gleaming surfaces and rotting cores. Ramadan Khater s vocal work here is one of the play s most lucid and engaging elements.
Through portraiture we witness the progression of a young contemporary couple s interracial relationship. Othello contends in the glamorous world of celebrity. His dialogue with his lover centers on profaning the holy, and their attitudes toward this idea shift with each stage.
She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her that she did pity them, he declaims, but the words do not correspond to the young man we see on stage. This is a speciousness that plagues the entire play. What dangers could a pop idol have surpassed to garner his lover s sympathy? We re presented with someone much pettier than the classical archetype; he s cocky and immature, sulky when denied and self-enamored when charitable.
Given the chain reaction Iago sets off in Othello s psyche, his brutal murder and consequent suicide are both dramatic and necessary. This mother of all climaxes is reduced here to a lover s spat, followed by a brief and heavy-handed glimpse of their distortion. They may get back together again; it s unlikely but we don t know and, ultimately, don t care. Too little is at stake.
The play finds its freshness and potency in the depiction of the lovers respective family dynamic. Although casting someone with Arab features to portray even the proxy of Desdemona s father remains questionable, the full force of Brabantio s demise remains palpable. With a coolly confident command of the pentameter, Mahmoud El-Lozy delivers the character s gravity effortlessly; the man is backed into a corner, consumed with defeat and a lingering hatred he refuses to shed.
Othello s home is no less a den of repression. The muted confrontation between father and son ends with them trying to out-macho each other in their consumption of everything on the dining table, to the mournful and rhythmic grievances of the womenfolk. If you re sitting close enough you can actually smell the greasy food – this minor miracle of the theater’s capacity to surpass the audio/visual is always a sensory delight.
This is not the first time El-Attar s company has attempted to strip a classical text down to its bare frame and supplant it with fresh meat. And though investing in the new material until it reaches an agreeable degree of maturation is a demanding challenge, the production s technical aspects function as strong pillars of support. Hassan Khan s video work is one of the highlights; whether he s capturing a symbolic interpretation of the emotional distances between family members or perspectives on solitary figures, he adeptly juggles three images and their cubic interplay, his visual angles arresting and haunting.
Hussein Baydoun s set, built on a foundation of giant exhaust fans, is a striking marvel, and his cushioned bathtub on wheels is probably a must-have for every home. Sawsan Bou Khaled s costumes further accentuate the hyper-urban climate.
The directors are capable of extemporizing physical nuance – witness how one of Othello s seething confrontations with his father is scored to a fan s sputtering engine and a lone creepy musical note, or the exact timing of Sayed Ragab s utterances as the despairing garbage man who abhors his son. But this, their most precious work, gets lost in too diffuse a production. It is a brief and thought-provoking piece, but the deconstruction/reconstruction process also spawned a Frankenstein with many vital organs yet no binding nervous system.
About Othello or Who s Afraid of William Shakespeare, a collage of various Shakespearean texts, by Ahmed El-Attar & Nevine El-Ibiary runs until September 18 at the Falaki Main Stage, AUC. For more information call (02) 797 6373.