Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016


I cannot hide my disappointment in Yevgeny Marcelli's production of "Othello" at the Vakhtangov Theater, the Moscow debut of a director whom many consider one of the most interesting from Russia's provinces. I expected much of it.

Marcelli's Kaliningrad production of Chekhov's "Play Without a Name," which was performed in Moscow in 1998 at the Chekhov International Theater Festival, was a feast of imagination.

"Othello," however, hardly has a breath of air in it. The set by Vladimir Boyer - primarily a fenced-in area on the forestage and a drop that slants back from the floor at mid-stage to the flies - implies that we are to see avant-garde Shakespeare. However, aside from two drummers who sit at either corner of the stage and accompany the action with thundering percussive duets, the promise of innovation is unfulfilled.

What we witness is the pale performance of a dated story. If Othello's sexual paranoia had grounding in notions of honor in the 17th century when the play was written, it now appears silly. The play can stand only on the drama linking Othello and his dissembling adjutant Iago.

Marcelli, however, actually removed much of the tale's intensity. Desdemona (Anna Dubrovskaya) is mostly a happy, somewhat dreamy young woman, even as she is being murdered. Othello (Vladimir Simonov) seldom gets worked up over anything - even his own suicide lacks despair. More important, Othello and Iago (Sergei Makovetsky) are bound not by rancor, competition or envy, but by a rather prosaic, down-to-earth relationship.

Perhaps Marcelli meant to present this tragedy as commonplace. He does attempt to bring Othello closer to us by offering several of the Moor's soliloquies and dialogues as if they are private thoughts that we somehow overhear. However, this was not nearly enough for me to identify with - let alone care about - an ostensibly intelligent man who strangles his wife then stabs himself. By rejecting great passions, Marcelli lost the grandeur of myth.

- John Freedman