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Othello

William Shakespeare, translated into Hebrew by Nissim Aloni
The Jerusalem Khan Theatre
(2007)

Production photo

Michael Gurevitch's production of this masterpiece draws on the superlative performances by the three main protagonists, Shimrit Lusting as Desdemona, Yossi Eini as Iago and Arie Tcherner in the title role in this triangle.

Tcherner is a towering Othello in every sense of the word. A broad 6 ft. 4 in. with olive complexion, he dominates centre stage. He was not blacked up but he is a man "declined into the vale of years" with evident sensual attraction and tender love for the youthful and fair Desdemona. He exudes dignity and attracts a degree of sympathy mingled with pity and, when consumed by jealousy, strangles his love. Tcherner does not roar to express anguish or anger yet the torment and fury are palpable from his demeanour.

Eni's Iago on the other hand, gradually proceeds to dominate the stage despite being a mere 5ft. 4 in. tall. The juxtaposition of the tall and mature Othello with the younger and slim built Iago contributes to the dramatic impact of the unfolding drama manipulated by the sole agent of the ultimate tragedy.

In the build-up towards an emotional crescendo where treacherous Iago unhinges Othello, Gurevitch's has the towering General seated and Iago stand. Iago's verbal exposé triggers Othello's nervous rapid movements of his feet as well as the clenching of his fists mirroring the inner turmoil and swiftly demolishing the power he might have had. The balance tilts irretrievably - Iago stands defiant.

A modern gadget is introduced - a camera. Iago exploits 'compromising' gestures between Cassio (Udi Rothschild) and Desdemona. The pictures are projected on the backdrop momentarily, as if to convince not only Othello but also the audience as a potential jury.

Lusting's Desdemona carries the audience with her throughout the gradual transition from a confident loving young bride revelling in her marriage to a rejected and accused individual. When Othello laments the pearl he has thrown away, his words do not sound hollow.

Dana Ivgy's appearance as a young schoolgirl leaves the part of Emilia wanting. The weakness is not so much in her acting, but in her casting.

Iago exploits Roderigo's (Yoav Hyman) naivety, which is amusingly performed. The laughter it generates, in particular in Act 1 scene III where Iago tells Roderigo eight times to place money in his purse, momentarily reduces the tension in the plot against the Moor.

Gurevitch's direction manages, through his appreciation of the opposing themes in the play to convey an entirely riveting Othello.

The stage at the Jerusalem Khan is rather small, yet Gurevitch deftly manages to create a sense of scene changes without actually having much changed on stage.

Nissim Aloni's translation of the play into Hebrew compromises poetry for a lucid script that has modern immediacy without losing the underlying poetry. The original text in English is discretely displayed on the side. It is worth noting here that the first translation of Othello into Hebrew was published in Vienna in 1874. There are at least five translations of this play into Hebrew. Aloni's version is loyal to Shakespeare without resorting to the flowery Biblical Hebrew of previous translations.

The Jerusalem Khan can congratulate itself on an engaging performance and an inspiring production.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson