Using only men in this play is like injecting a bull with steroids. But rather than publicity-seeking gimmick or anachronism for the sake of curiosity, Burn's choice reminds of A Few Good Men or Apocalypse Now: the casting strips away the thin veneer of civilization in rank and medals to expose the savage heart of military culture.
Over the course of three riveting hours of theater, Burns leaves in every scheming conversation, every extended interchange between the officers of Othello's liberating Venetian force and the native Cypriot militia. The ensemble of soldiers swagger through, hands on their scabbards like a group of brigands who can't go a day without unsheathing their swords.
Burns adds his signature stylization, stitching interludes of modern music, song, and dancing into the production, the choreography derived mostly from military marches and processionals.
Carpenter's charm invigorates every scene; one moment pliant and self-deprecating, in the next, he clamors with murderous bombast and self-destructive ambition. He's almost admirable in his villainy; a Nietzschean antihero evoking that philosopher's understanding that "in peaceful times, the warlike man sets upon himself."
As for the men playing women, these actors move with a mechanized gait through stilted poses, suffering slaps and stabs, appearing as fragile ornaments and answering each barked command with voices like echo chambers of the men whose designs they follow. Here, these characters reflect Shakespeare's dictum that men "are all stomachs" and women "but food." To cast actresses in such a fearsome production would only inflict one more act of abuse upon them.
Presented until Nov. 4 by Quintessence Theatre Group
at the Sedgwick Theater,
7137 Germantown Ave.
Tickets: $10 to $30.
Information: 215-240-6055 or quintessencetheatre.org.