On New Year's Eve, I went with mithras to see Othello at the New York Theatre Workshop, starring David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig. I...don't ever need to see Othello again, I don't think. That was pretty much perfect.
This was a ridiculously hard ticket to get--mithras queued online as soon as the tickets went on sale, and in the course of the five minutes it took her to get to the front of the queue, we watched every single performance sell out, except for New Year's Eve. When we got there, we saw why.
The theater only seats 220 people, and these seats were arrayed on three sides of the stage, in bleachers. The first row was on the level with the stage, such that people on those seats had to keep their feet tucked in lest they trip the actors.
We were in the first row.
To watch such amazing actors from sometimes only a foot away was incredible. You could see thoughts entering their heads as they spoke--the moment when it occurs to Iago to use Cassio's vapid affection, the moment when Othello begins to believe his wife is unfaithful. It takes great actors to make the words of Shakespeare seem like natural thought, and to add layers to them beyond what is obvious on the page. And that's what we got from every member of the cast.
It was staged as a military barracks, with cast members lounging about on sleeping pads in the background of most scenes, playing guitar hero, or bench pressing, or cleaning their guns. The lighting was largely done with handheld lights--cell phones, camp lanterns, headlamps. The entire first scene was in pitch blackness. (And it says something about Daniel Craig, that I spent it thinking we'd gotten the understudy, because I didn't recognize the voice of Iago.)
The casual misogyny and masculinity of this backdrop informed Othello's character, so when you first see him explode at Cassio, you can see the violence he is capable of and will enact at the end of the play.
And it wasn't just Oyelowo and Craig that were brilliant. I've never liked Cassio before, but this actor made him both funny and pitiable. And Roderigo--god, Roderigo stole the show. Every time Iago manipulated him, he had this look on his face of deep skepticism, but like a mouse mesmerized by a snake, not quite able to pull away. Even his line, "Nobody come? Then shall I bleed to death," got a laugh.
What I was most struck by, though, is in the past I watched this play pitying Othello. But this time I watched it silently yelling at Desdemona to run away. Watching a man murder his wife while she's begging for just another hour? God. That's awful to watch. Makes me wonder why people quote "loved not wisely, but too well," out of context, as it is what Othello uses to justify his murder.
So yeah. That was incredible. In a year in which I saw Hamilton, I'm going to have to put this down as the highlight of my theater-going.