I knew I was in for a different experience when I walked into the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and I heard Nicki Minaj’s booming voice: “I’m a motherfucking monster” was pounding through the speakers.
And it turned out to be the most fun experience I’ve had in a long time.
My friend and I sat beside the stage, and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else: right in the action. We sat there bobbing our heads to Outkast and Biggie tunes before the DJ (this show has its own DJ? You bet) climbed the ladder to his nest and took his seat. Then the four main players — GQ, JQ (the Q Brothers), Postell Pringle and Jackson Doran would play every part — took the stage.
I was afraid I would be lost: I’ve never read or seen any adaptation of Othello before. To be honest, I Sparknotes’ed the plot summary but it was too long and I decided to wing it. I wasn’t lost at all.
Maybe it’s the months of listening to Hamilton that got me prepared for being able to follow the fast raps, but I think that’s only part of it. Mostly, I could follow it because it was so smartly written with knowledge and experience since the Q Brothers do this all the time. Othello is only one of many “ad-RAP-tations” they’ve created.
The troupe has been performing Othello for four years, so they have it down to a science. Their rhymes are slick and fast, but still well-paced that the audience could follow along easily. None of the rhymes were forced, even when rap star Othello is talking to his label CEO, who is obsessed with tennis and doesn’t stop talking about Agassi. There are some smart pop culture references: “a few good men who could handle the truth,” Iago and Amelia: “You witch! / I’m not a witch, I’m your wife!”
The simple utilitarian costumes made for quick changes onstage. When GQ played Iago, he donned a green hat and shirt along with his green shoelaces to show he was green with envy.
I think Willy Shakes would be stoked to know that 400 years after his death, people are turning his work into raps: keeping the message, changing the medium, but keeping that same beautiful rhyming flow.
My only complaint is that Cassio never played a Casio. But he does have some sweet dance moves.
Othello: The Remix runs until May 8 at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Get your tickets at ChicagoShakes.com.