The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0035 Wednesday, 17 January 2007
Date: Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Subject: Lost Hanky
From the Baltimore Sun
An irreverent turn of events, starting with a lost hanky
In 'Desdemona,' the women of 'Othello' vamp it up
By J. Wynn Rousuck
Sun Theater Critic
January 17, 2007
A saucily corseted stage manager enters down the center aisle,
flourishes a handkerchief and then drops it on the floor. That's the
bold beginning of Desdemona, A Play About a Handkerchief at the
Baltimore Shakespeare Festival.
Between scenes, we hear the stage manager's voice calling lighting cues
as three female stagehands come on stage, adding or subtracting props.
Focusing this much attention on the folks behind the scenes is a little
unconventional, but then, Paula Vogel's revisionist look at
Shakespeare's Othello is a lot unconventional.
Desdemona re-imagines Shakespeare's Othello from the viewpoint of its
female characters: Desdemona, Othello's bride; Emilia, her maid and the
wife of Othello's arch-rival, Iago; and Bianca, a prostitute. It's
wildly irreverent and bawdy to the point of deliberate bad taste. (Do
not take the kids to this one.)
But Vogel - a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright best known for How I
Learned to Drive and The Baltimore Waltz - uses her play's excesses and
low comedy for a serious purpose. Although Othello takes place at a time
when women were shunted into the background, in Desdemona, Vogel
suggests that they might have been more powerful - or at least more
canny - than Shakespeare let on.
Female director Raine Bode reinforces that notion by letting the
audience see that the stage manager and stagehands are all women.
Vogel's play is an 80-minute exercise in overturning preconceptions. In
Shakespeare, Desdemona is pure of heart and deed. In Vogel, she's such a
loose woman, she actually tries plying Bianca's trade at the brothel one
night. And though Othello believes Desdemona is cheating with Cassio,
he's "the only one" she hasn't slept with, as Emilia puts it.
[ . . . ]
Desdemona, A Play About a Handkerchief runs through Jan. 28 at the
Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, St. Mary's Outreach Center, 3900 Roland
Ave. $15-$25. 410-366-8596 or baltimoreshakespeare.org.
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