Desdemona-A Play About A Handkerchief | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

Desdemona-A Play About A Handkerchief 

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Desdemona--A Play About a Handkerchief, Thunder Road Ensemble, at Victory Gardens Theater. Desdemona's portrayal of Othello's hapless wife as a spoiled, shrill, manipulative brat who's slept with every soldier in her husband's regiment except Cassio and its depiction of Emilia as a sanctimonious old hypocrite and of Bianca as a dumb-bunny Happy Hooker would be denounced as flagrant misogyny if the author had been a man. But since it was written by high-profile lesbian wordsmith Paula Vogel, audiences can wallow in these soapy stereotypes with the cleanest of consciences.

Of course even tabloid sleaze can be rendered intelligently, as the 1995 Heliotrope production of this play demonstrated. But the Thunder Road cast seem to be having too much fun with their naughty-little-girl antics and their nearly unintelligible dialects--in particular Deborah King, whose Desdemona speaks in an eerie blend of Mayfair and Valley Girl--to develop solidly grounded characters. Fran Martone as Emilia salvages a modicum of dignity through sheer concentration, and director Amantha Sam May attempts to sober up the action in the last minutes of the play, but it's too little too late.

--Mary Shen Barnidge

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