At the much celebrated New York Theatre Workshop production of Othello, Andrew Lieberman's austere set looks like the inside of a packing crate as the audience files in, taking seats on three sides; mattresses are strewn about the floor, as if we are inside a military barrack. Under the imaginative direction of Sam Gold, the play starts in the dark. This is Shakespeare's play, after all, and the black fixes you immediately on the bard's poetry. By the time lights go on, you are prepared to witness Iago's (superb Daniel Craig) cunning, brutal betrayal of the naïve, besotted Othello (David Oyelowo, equally Craig's match in excellence). Jane Cox's lighting creates the intimacy of a bedroom for vigorous lovemaking, and an arena for fierce man-to-man combat. You are not likely to find theater this engaging, this terrific, this season.
The fine supporting cast features Rachel Brosnahan as Desdemona, Marsha Stephanie Blake as Emilia, and Finn Wittrock as Cassio. The dead count is increased by one from the Shakespeare original, adding Bianca (Nikki Massoud). On the night we attended, the audience was a who's who of actors, writers, and artists. A few, including Bette Midler and her husband Tony Goldwyn made their way to the floor to congratulate the performers.
Daniel Craig would not say which work was more physically rigorous, as Iago or as James Bond. David Oyelowo seemed okay with the idea that this Othello would close this week. You would die doing more than the eight-week run, he replied and then caught the humor: as Othello, he does, in fact, die. Bulked up and chiseled, we marveled at his physique. If you are going a few rounds with Daniel Craig, he said, you'd better be in shape. As the accolades pile on, for several films this year (Queen of Katwe, the soon to be released A United Kingdom), he's honored to receive the Athena Film Festival's Leading Man Award in February.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.