July 11, 2008

‘Desdemona’ Does a Double Take on ‘Othello’

By Lisa Millegan, The Modesto Bee, Calif.

Jul. 11--"Othello," Shakespeare's tale of destructive jealousy, only tells part of the story -- if you ask Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel, anyway.

Vogel ("How I Learned to Drive,""The Baltimore Waltz") offers a feminist view with "Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief."

In this version, which will be staged by Prospect Theater Project in Modesto, Othello's wife Desdemona really is unfaithful and has befriended Bianca, a popular prostitute in Cyprus.

Both are viewed with dismay by Emilia, Desdemona's self-righteous Irish-Catholic maid.

Kathleen Ennis, who stars as the title character, said the play is written in the spirit of Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead" in that it focuses on minor Shakespeare characters.

"It's lot of fun," said director Charlotte Ferreira. "You can't get away from Paula Vogel making her political points here and there. It's not three chicks sitting around talking.

"She's got things to say about women and power and class and female friendships and relationships. In a man's world, where men call the shots, how do women relate to each other?"

Vogel shows the class of the women by giving them exaggerated accents.

She writes that upper-class Desdemona should have a very proper British accent, Emilia (Noelle Chandler), a "Lucky Charms" Irish accent and Bianca (Liz Tachella-Bowman), a "stage Cockney" accent.

It's not necessary to know the story of "Othello" to enjoy the play but it certainly helps, Ferreira said.

She suggests people at least read the summary of the play or her commentary in the program.

"It helps a little if you know why it's called a play about the handkerchief," she said, explaining that the handkerchief is the main proof Othello uses to accuse Desdemona of infidelity.


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