Theater : Two evenings with "Othello" and experts at Featherstone
Photo by Stratton McCrady
For the last two years Boston's Actor's Shakespeare Project has been voted Best Theater Company by the Boston Phoenix. They are a troupe without a stage that performs the works of the Bard at churches, schools, galleries, and other unconventional venues. Next week, the lush green lawns of the Featherstone Center for the Arts will be the setting, as the group presents selected scenes from its recent production of "Othello."
Not only will Vineyard audiences have the opportunity to see one of Shakespeare's four greatest dramas performed by professional Shakespearian actors, the two evenings will also feature discussion and commentary.
On Tuesday, the play's director Judy Braha, who is the head of the MFA directing program at Boston University's School of Theatre will provide the commentary. On Wednesday, theater luminary Robert Brustein, founder of the Yale Repertory Theatre and the American Repertory Theater, will lend his considerable expertise on Shakespeare to the discussion.
The project is a collaboration between Actor's Shakespeare Project and the Vineyard's ArtFarm Enterprises, who in their sophomore season have made great strides towards bringing off-Island talent to the Vineyard and hosting unique theatrical events. ArtFarm co-founder Brooke Ditchfield, who will appear in the production as Desdemona, notes that this event will reunite her with a number of people from her formative years as an actress.
The actors who will portray Iago and Emelia (Ken Cheeseman and Paula Langton ) were members of Shakespeare and Company in the Berkshires when Ms. Ditchfield was growing up in western Massachusetts. The two actors came to her grade school and directed her in a production of "King Lear" when she was in fourth grade. Later, Ms. Langton was one of Ms. Ditchfield's teachers at Boston University, as was the show's director, Ms. Braha. Ms. Ditchfield, who auditioned and won the role of Desdemona in the Boston production, was ecstatic about the opportunity to work with some of the people who influenced her early on in her career.
The full-scale production of "Othello," which ran this past winter, is set in the near future. "It's a very contemporary play," Ms. Braha says. "It's a look at the criminal mind in its themes of identity theft and other issues that are jumping off the front pages right now."
Ms. Braha will discuss the changes the contemporary world has wrought as well as the play's parallels. "One really big difference between the time that it was originally conceived is that we live in a really diverse world — there were basically no African Americans in England in Shakespeare's day," she says. "I wanted to represent these differences in our production."
Mr. Brustein, who has dedicated a lifetime to the study of Shakepeare, will partially focus his evening's discussion on the character of master manipulator Iago. "He is the earliest of Shakespeare's characters without a belief. He can lie without fear of retribution." He adds, "The notion of absolute evil that fascinated Shakespeare, we know very well in our time. We had our Hitler, our Al-Qaeda. These issues are very important to us."
Later this summer, Mr. Brustein will present a reading of "The Last Will" — the final in his trilogy of plays based on Shakespeare's life, as one of the Vineyard Playhouse's Monday Night Specials.
Ms. Ditchfield notes that the two evenings, which will include discussion and audience participation following each selected scene, will be very different and that some people may be interested in attending both. "If you've ever wanted to come and learn a lot about one show this is the time to do it," Ms. Ditchfield says.
Ms. Braha comments that the way "Othello" resonates with today's audiences make it the perfect vehicle for discussion. "I think that 'Othello' is a great cautionary tale for our time," she says. "It's a very human story. It's a play that you can see and go home and reflect on your own life in a lot of ways. It resonates with everybody depending on where you are in life at any particular time."
Evenings With Othello, 5 pm, Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 10 and 11, Featherstone, Oak Bluffs. $30. ticketsmv.com.
Gwyn McAllister is a freelance writer for The Times who lives in Oak Bluffs.