After a brief, critically-acclaimed run in Vienna in June, director Peter Sellars's chilling production of Othello is currently being staged here, for a similarly brief period of time, ending October 4th. It stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago and John Ortiz, a Latino actor, as the titular Moor of Venice. Explaining the decision to cast a non-black actor in the title role, Sellars tells the Times, "In the 21st century in this country you can no longer look at Othello as a black guy, as some symbolic figure of the unrepresented black person. He is a person, period. In our cast we have three black actors, three Latin actors and two white actors. We’re mixing it up, just like America is mixing it up."

The performance begins with a heavenly prelude: Othello and Desdemona (Jessica Chastain) reclining together on a bed of sleek television monitors, the stage's main set-piece. Birds chirp as the two lovers embrace languidly, and our knowledge of the imminent catastrophe infuses the scene with an aching tenderness. Soon Hoffman, as Iago, emerges to discover them, and the tragic chain of events is set in motion. His commanding performance transcends the cliche notion of Iago as one-dimensional villain, and is charged with a blistering intensity that boils over into rage more frequently than one sees in his film roles. But occasionally all the shouting feels repetitive, and just a little unearned; during the interval one audience member was heard remarking, "They should have changed the name of the play to OthYELLo."

Sellars, who cut many of the play's characters and condensed two parts into the new role Bianca Montano, has accurately described his production as "chamber theater," and the minimalist set—an empty stage save for a few chairs and the aforementioned TV screens—casts the passionate performances in stark relief. James Ingalls's crisp yet rich lighting design enhances the bare-essential mood, while also pitching enormous shadow-puppets of the actors against the rear wall. The whole space has the feel of a massive military barracks, where idle soldiers have nothing to do but drink, lust, and plot.

All in all, it's a bracing, well-measured interpretation, and each member of the talented ensemble holds their own alongside the two powerhouse stars. Ortiz is reliably subtle and tender, and his only unconvincing moment as Othello comes when, immediately after killing his wife, he eschews gravitas for an unexpected nonchalance. It's a strange choice, considering his devastating anguish in the moments before the murder. But, ultimately, your enjoyment of this Othello largely rests on how enamored you are with Hoffman's prodigious gifts, balanced against your willingness to sit for four hours of Shakespeare. It's Sellars's considerable achievement that the pacing never drags, but with a two-hour-and-fifteen minute first act, you'll definitely want to limit your fluid intake before the show.