Tuesday, January 15, 2008


ABOVE: Cast of Othello (Pics courtesy of the Black Rep)

Actor Andre Sills as Othello and Lipede
Actresses Monica Parks as Amelia and Rory Lipede as Desdemona
The Black Rep adds a bit of flava to classic Greek tragedy
By Ma’at Atkins
Everybody who’s everybody has heard of Othello. Even if one hasn’t read the book in school, the lay person know at least that its one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and the lead character is of black blood. After seeing the St. Louis Black Repertory Company’s version of Othello this past weekend, it took a awhile to imagine Othello set in another time and place with this classic tale.

Directed by female director Chris Anthony, director of Youth & Education at Shakespeare Festival in Los Angeles, the Black Rep’s version of Othello, that runs through Feb. 3 at the Grandel Square Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square, changes the setting from Italy B.C. to 19th century New Orleans/Cuba.

For those who are not familiar with the plot, Othello tells the tale of a Spanish moor military hero , Othello (played by Black rep newcomer and Canadian Andre Sills) who marries lady servant Desdemona (played by St. Louis native Rory Lipede) and unbeknownst to both are betrayed by Othello’s military colleague Iago (played by Black Rep newcomer Darryl Alan Reed) from his jealousy of Othello resulting in the death of Desdemona and the suicide of Othello.

Overall the Black Rep’s version of Othello is a noble effort. By changing the setting to a more ethnic setting gives the play a sense of American history as it pertains to African Americans’ socioeconomic plight post- slavery, but unfortunately just changing the setting and leaving most of the Shakespearean dialogue intact make the play seem more of fantasy than pseudo-realism.

For example, in some of the changed text, it is discovered that the Roman soldiers are now Buffalo soldiers, yet the characters' dialogue is still set in Greek times of Shakespeare making teh charcters seem a bit incongurent to their Creole heritage. It would have been nice if some of the New Orleans language, dialect and culture could have been pastiched into the fabric of this production.

Another oddity which could have been focused more on is the question of Desdemona’s race. In the production, Desdemona's father is white, but she is light skinned. In post-slavery New Orleans time, she most definitely would have been Creole (or octoroon), but it is not addressed, just assumed that she is of mixed blood.

Thirdly, the main character Othello mentioned in several parts of the production that he is black. This color referencing seems a bit out of synch (and a bit pompous) especially if the main characters are known to be already black.

Nevertheless, the aforementioned does not hinder the fact that the cast did an excellent job in their roles especially the main three characters played by Sills, Lipede and Reed. The supporting cast also does a notable job especially Monica Parks who plays Desdemona’s maid and Iago’s wife, Emilia.

The costumes, designed by Woody Award winning designer Reggie Ray are historically correct in reagrds to the militray gear of the Buffalo soldiers and the scenery of the French Quarters, designed by Woody Award winning set designer Jim Burwinkle, also adds to the realism of the times.

So, if you get a minute, grab a ticket (and maybe a pad and pen) and get ready to get schooled again of how two of the seven sins (greed and envy) are manifested and tragedy is defined in this classic spin of this tale regardless of the flaws.

The Black Rep
3810 Grandel Square Theatre
Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Friday and Saturday performances at 8 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday matinee performances at 3 p.m.
Cast Connection Night post-show discussions, Thursday Jan 24
Student Matinee performances Jan. 16 and 30 at 10 a.m.
Tickets $43 and $33.
Student rush tickets (390 minutes prior to curtain) are $10 with valid I.D>
The Black Rep will continue its Next Generation program this season where youngsters ages 8 to 8 will be admitted free with purchase of an adult ticket on Thursday evenings and all Saturday matinee performances. One child per adult.

To reserve tickets, please call 314. 534, 3810 or visit http://www.theblackrep.org/

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I came across this review by accident, and am astounded at the sheer level of of ignorance and impudence behind it.

Everybody may be familiar with Shakespeare, but you, obviously don't know what you are talking about.

Shakespeare isn't from ancient "Greek times," he is from Renaissance-era England. This play was written in the early 1600's and set in the same time period. So there were no "Roman soldiers" as it was NOT set in ancient Rome B.C., but rather Venice and Cypress, of the same era it was written in.

And while this particular production was an updated adaptation - for you to suggest that they change the language to sound more "Creole," quite frankly - is offensive.

The reason that Shakespeare endures - is the language. So while you can change the set and setting, you can't change the words or you lose the essence of the play, of ANY play, really.

Being a theatre critic is less about having an opinion, and more about knowing what the heck you are talking about, doing some simple research, and understanding what the play is really about. Then you can opine whether or not a production has successfully accomplished that.

When I read this article, not only was I surprised at how amateur it was, I was also embarrassed at the ignorance and audacity of the writer. You should be ashamed at having written, and thereafter presenting to the world - this ridiculous review.