By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Oct 23, 2014 at 12:36 PM

Betrayal, revenge, a little more betrayal, a little more revenge, then even more revenge and a white lace handkerchief.

That’s about all you have to know about "My Dear Othello," the Theatre Gigante production opening tonight at the Kenilworth Studio 508 Theater.

The Moor of Venice is one of the greatest tragedies written by Shakespeare, and this reworking by Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson is no less a tragic, although the journey to that ending is shorter, simpler and far less complex.

The production combines the passions and emotions of the original play with an almost Kabuki-like style, with all the poses and freezes so common in the Japanese theatrical form. The only thing missing is the pounds of makeup worn by your average Kabuki dancer.

Kralj and Anderson are widely known for their blend of dance and theater, with the former's training as a dancer creating a theatrical experience that is unique in Milwaukee. The company staged a striking production of "Midsummer in Midwinter" last season, their take on another Shakespeare stalwart "A Midsummer Night’s Dream."

I saw the preview performance of "My Dear Othello," and it was striking how strong this story is when it’s stripped down from all the extras, both people and subplots.

This is a story easy to follow. Othello marries Desdemona. His aide Iago, hurt by being passed over for a promotion, engineers a fanciful tale of Desdemona’s infidelity. Iago, the personification of the classic schemer, drafts his wife Emilia, who is also Desdemona’s handmaiden, to help create the tale of cheating.

And it all revolves around that white lace handkerchief. Othello gives it to Desdemona. Iago tells his wife to get it, and she does and gives it to Iago who then plants it in the room of Cassio, knowing that Othello will discover it and be convinced his wife has cheated on him. And, like any great tragedy, it ends with death.

This is not a linear production with a beginning, a middle and an end. Some of the things in this production of an hour happen over and over, to the same people with the same words. But in context, they don’t seem repetitive.

No matter how interesting and unique a script, you need actors to really pull it off, and joining Kralj is a trio of players, one schooled in dance like her and the other two from the world of theater.

Janet Lily, the head of the Dance Department at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, brings a grace and wonderful sense of humor to the role of Emilia.

Michael Stebbins brings a whole new flavor to the role of Othello. Most often, he is played as a swashbuckling warrior, but Stebbins, in keeping with the theme, gives us an Othello bound by his demons. He is stiff with his hands clenched in front of him, a reminder of a martial artist rather than a warrior charging across the planes. He creates a character of immense depth and is very interesting.

Milwaukee favorite Tom Reed plays Iago as if the role were created just for him. He owns the smart and scheming knave, and is chilling in his manipulative manners. His "I need that handkerchief" speech is one of the most thrilling moments of theater I’ve seen lately.

This is an ambitious production for this company. When you take a story as familiar as "Othello" and strip it down, there’s a danger that an audience may be expecting one thing while they get another.

But "My Dear Othello" is the latest example of how creative some of the smaller companies in town can be when they are free to tell a great tale however they want.

"My Dear Othello" runs through Nov. 8. Information on showtimes and tickets are available here.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.