It’s fitting that the artists at Polarity Ensemble Theatre (PET) chose to rechristen their intellectually bookish and visually (Peter) Brook-ish adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Othello, ” a tragedy of passion and jealousy, “Othello in Mask”: this is the Bard buried beneath several indigenous performing-art forms including Japanese Kabuki, Italian Commedia dell’arte and European Masquerade. And although aspects of this mishmash of techniques are notable on an academic level—the elaborate mask designs, the highly stylized movements and physical dexterity of the performers and the visual starkness all serve director Zack Brenner’s thesis that “Othello is about a clash of foreign identities”—there is little regard for Shakespeare’s text, resulting in a production in which this imagery feels hollow because what is being seen rarely lives in harmony with what is being said. “Othello” is full of beautiful speeches, but here much of the dialogue is either spoken with equal rapidity and little modulation or shouted at an unnecessarily high decibel level: within the hyper-intimate confines of a performance space such as the Side Studio, this uncomfortable loudness is the acting equivalent of a pianist pounding on the keys at a chamber piece recital. There are some quiet and affecting moments, especially in Act IV’s tender exchange between Desdemona and Emilia, the latter beautifully played by the underused Abigail Trabue. And Mason Hill as Iago possesses beautiful, sad and vulnerable eyes that convey as much as his speeches do (too bad they’re mostly hidden by that damn mask) but it is too little, too late. Ultimately, for all the circuses there is little thematic insight into the original beyond the obvious, and emotionally the production doesn’t come close to yielding the pathos that a simply staged production could. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Side Project Theatre, 1439 West Jarvis, (847)293-7705. Fri-Sat 8pm/Sun 3pm. $20. Through Dec 10.