Othello in drag
By: Lisa Jo Rudy, November 1, 2011
Lisa Jo Rudy - Colleen Shaughnessy, in the role of Montano, dukes it out with a soldier twice her size in a rehearsal for Othello, playing at the Tilden Arts Center's Studio Theater at Cape Cod Community College.
If there’s one thing we all know about Shakespeare’s Othello, it’s this: Othello is a guy.
A black guy who’s married to a white chick.
A black guy with serious jealousy issues.
But as it turns out, Othello doesn’t necessarily have to have a penis to be believable. Nor does the character need to be black.
In fact, in Vana Trudeau’s production of the classic tragedy, Othello is played by a rather slim, white woman (Rebekah Medeiros). And after a chat with Trudeau, the decision makes a lot of sense.
The character of Othello is a “Moorish” general, highly respected by the military. He marries Desdemona, a white woman who is carried away by Othello’s storytelling, romantic bearing and personal power. Manipulated by his enemy, Iago, into believing his wife is unfaithful to him, Othello kills his faithful wife, learns the truth, and destroys himself.
In Shakespeare’s world, the idea of a non-white general and a mixed-race marriage was beyond bizarre. Just being black meant being an absolute outsider.
Today, we have a black man in the role of President of the United States. Even if you dislike Obama, the reason not likely related to the color of his skin. If you create a storyline in which characters are bent out of shape over racial issues, you actually force the audience to imagine themselves in a different space and time.
Says Trudeau, “As I read and re-read the play, I began to understand Othello as fundamentally about jealousy and prejudice, not racism; and I grappled with how exactly to portray Othello as an ‘outsider,’ someone tenuously positioned within the societal and military domains of the story.”
Who could be more of an outsider than a lesbian general, involved in a relationship with a woman who might be cheating on her with a man?!
By casting Othello as a woman, Trudeau has also set up some rather disturbing scenarios. Because once gender isn’t an issue, it means, for example, that women grapple with men in hand-to-hand combat.
That may not seem like a big deal. After all, if you’ve seen Angelina Jolie kick ass as Lara Croft, you’re cool with cross-gender battle. But take a look at these rehearsal photos, and you’ll see that it’s a little different when it’s real people on stage.
Are you really as cool as you think are with a big guy like Iago (played by Dan Groves) getting down on the mat with tiny Montano (played by Colleen Shaughnessy)?
Then there’s the issue of a woman in charge of an entire military unit. On the battlefield. How do men really respond when their general, whose cleavage is hardly hidden by her uniform, orders them to attack—or retreat?
Last but not least, there’s the question of Iago’s relationship with Othello. True, Iago is doing his level best to destroy his commanding officer. But somewhere hidden in his motivations there’s a desire to be admired, and even loved.
Read these lines of Iago’s, spoken at the beginning of the play as he bitches about Othello to a buddy and see what you think. What is Iago really thinking about his commanding officer?
Were I the Moor, I would not be Iago:
In following him, I follow but myself;
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so, for my peculiar end:
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, 'tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at: I am not what I am.
If you go…
Othello opens on Thursday, November 3 at 7 PM in the Tilden Arts Center’s Studio Theater at Cape Cod Community College.
Performances continue on November 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 18 and 19 at 7 PM
Matinees will take place at 2 PM on November 6, 13 and 20.
There is no performance on November 17.
Tickets are $10 general admission; $5 for CCCC faculty/staff/students