Othello is a masterful psychological thriller, with jealousy in the driver’s seat. Both male leads, Othello and Iago, are so jealous of Cassio that they become willing to kill when each believes the young lieutenant has wronged them, for quite different reasons. Add the psychological complexity of the work to the racial and military framing present throughout, and The Chicago Shakespeare Theater delivers three hours of eminently compelling drama.
Chicago Shakespeare’s Othello, directed by Jonathan Munby, delivers high production values as well – the world-class venue gives attention to every detail. The music used in the work is an original score written by prominent sound designer/composer Lindsay Jones. Jones is an accomplished force in theater, and has created scores for many production companies all over the country; he is in high demand.
With Othello, Jones’s music helps to create a tumultuous, uncertain world worthy of the political and psychological machinations that drive the action of the play. The music provides no earwig themes, but its dramatic embellishments are right at home in the context of the monumental stage. The score is perhaps at its best as it guides viewers through the exposition of the plot in the opening minutes of the play. At once dissonant and vaguely inspired by nationalistic anthems, the music parallels the shifting loyalties of the characters and the sharp pangs of fortune.
Indeed, the wheel of fortune, so often spun by Shakespeare, enacts great irony on Othello’s world as a huge stroke-of-luck storm destroys the Turkish invasion fleet. The play’s cast of military characters, which had been sent to Cypress to fight the invading fleet back, are instead free to play out a more human tale of romance and deception, one steeped in “the green-eyed monster” and untimely tragic death. No doubt this cast of characters would be better fighters than they are lovers. The music helps reveal a world that favors the harsh and the military over the sentimental and the romantic. Irony carries the day when, in the final scene, rather than our “heroes,” it is a maid and a politician who deliver Shakespeare’s tell-tale dramatic discourse on the tragedy of the human condition.
Jones got his start here in Chicago, where he came after graduating college with a degree in acting. Now in his mid forties, he’s always been enamored of the stage, “When theatre does its job right it really can make a human connection like no other art form can.” As a young man working on local productions, he quickly found he had a knack for scoring plays. In the video postscript below, Jones speaks of his composition process, “It comes from a very instinctive place.”
So does Othello, running through April 10 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
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