London’s first black Othello in ‘Red Velvet’ at NJ Shakespeare Theatre

Red Velvet by Lolita Chakrabarti. The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey 2016. Directed by Bonnie J. Monte. Pictured left to right: Lindsay Smiling and Victoria Mack. In background: Shannon Harris and John Little. Photo credit: Jerry Dalia.
Pictured left to right: Lindsay Smiling and Victoria Mack. In background: Shannon Harris and John Little. (Photo credit: Jerry Dalia)

New Jersey Repertory’s new play “Iago,” about a post-World War II love affair amongst three needy London stage actors and their love triangle, tonight is joined by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s NJ premiere of “Red Velvet,” set in the mid-1800s about the true-life story of Ira Aldridge, the first  black actor to appear as Othello on the London stage.

This is so cool. When you’ve seen the entire Shakespeare canon multiple times, getting a new look at one of the world’s favorite playwright always is interesting .Sometimes it works  sometimes it doesn’t. Read my review of “Iago” here.

Can’t wait to see “Red Velvet” tomorrow. Here , Edmund Kean collapses on stage while playing Othello and the young black actor is asked to step into the role. “Red Velvet” examines the public’s reactions to this groundbreaking moment in history that took place during the start of the abolitionist movement.

Here’s more from the press release:

Red Velvet not only celebrates the life of this little known American artist, but it sheds light on his immense influence on the stylistic “revolution” that occurred in the world of theatre in the late 1800s, and it examines the power of art to sustain an artist through daunting circumstances.

Director Bonnie J. Monte brings this compelling and true tale to life with veteran actors Lindsay Smiling and Victoria Mack in the leading roles. Mr. Smiling and Ms. Mack last appeared together in Ms. Monte’s 2011 production of Othello. Now, they will share the stage again portraying the real life actors Ira Aldridge and Ellen Tree, who play Othello and Desdemona respectively in Red Velvet.
Written in 2012, Red Velvet premiered at the Tricycle Theatre in London. During its run, Ms. Chakrabarti received the London Critics Circle Award for “Most Promising Playwright,” as well as the WhatsonStage Awards for “London Newcomer of the Year” and “Best New Play.” It has since been performed at The Garrick Theatre in London and St. Ann’s Warehouse in New York.

The Cast:

Lindsay Smiling returns for his fifth season to play the great actor Ira Aldridge. Recent company credits include The Learned LadiesMeasure for MeasureOthello and The Winter’s Tale. His recent credits include The Hard Problem (Wilma), Metamorphosis(Arden Theatre Co.), Hillary and Clinton (Philadelphia Theatre Co.), and Peter and the Starcatcher (The Walnut Street Theater). Mr. Smiling has performed Off-Broadway and at numerous regional theatres including: Syracuse Stage, People’s Light and Theatre Co., Pittsburgh Public, Two River Theatre, and ACT.

Victoria Mack, who returns for her ninth season, will play the role of Ellen Tree. Her company credits include The GuardsmanOthello, The Taming of the ShrewKing LearPride and PrejudiceAs You Like ItLove’s Labour’s LostOf Mice and Men, and Pygmalion. Ms. Mack has appeared both on Broadway and Off-Broadway in Venus in FurHappy Birthday (TACT), The Silver Cord (Peccadillo Theatre Co.), and Flight (Lucille Lortel).

David Foubert plays Pierre Laporte. Now in his ninth season with The Shakespeare Theatre, he was last seen at STNJ in Henry VIII and has also appeared in Around the World in Eighty DaysThe Winter’s Tale, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and Love’s Labour’s Lost among many others. His film and television credits include All My Children, Shakespeare on Security (AT&T), and The Hacking Chronicles (AT&T).
David Andrew Macdonald returns for his seventh season in the role of Charles Kean. He has performed at The Theatre in The Merry Wives of WindsorA Christmas CarolPride and PrejudiceJulius Caesar, and Arms and the Man, among many others. Mr. Macdonald has appeared on Broadway in SkylightRockyMamma Mia!Coram Boy, and Two Shakespearean Actors.
John Little will play Terence/Bernard Warde as he returns for his eighth season with The Shakespeare Theatre. Company credits include The Devil’s DiscipleA Most Dangerous WomanOliver Twist, The Grapes of Wrath, and Amadeus. His recent credits include the national tour of Cabaret (Roundabout Theatre Company), My Fair Lady (Pittsburgh Public Theatre), and Annie (Pioneer Theatre). He has also toured Europe in Crazy For YouA Christmas Carol, and Harold Maude, as well as Japan and Korea in Cabaret.
In her Shakespeare Theatre debut, Shannon Harris will play Connie. She was last seen in The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), the inaugural production of the new Southampton based theatre company Purpled Pheasant Productions. She has also appeared in In Darfur (WAM Theatre), The Winter’s Tale(Actors Shakespeare Company), and Fortune (June Havoc Theatre).
Now in her second season with The Shakespeare Theatre, Sofia Jean Gomez will play the role of Halina Wozniak/Margaret Aldridge. She was last seen at the Theatre in The Time of Your Life. Her Off-Broadway credits include Angels in America: Parts 1 & 2(Signature Theatre Company; Lucille Lortel Best Ensemble) and Would You Still (New Worlds Stages; directed by Kathleen Turner). Ms. Gomez has also performed with The Shakespeare Theatre in D.C. in The Tempest (Best performance of 2014 D.C. Metro), Argonautika (Helen Hayes Nominee Best Supporting Actress).
Rounding out the cast are Savannah Desourmeaux and Garrett Lawson.

"Red Velvet" by Lolita Chakrabarti at the Shakespeare includes (from left) Garrett Lawson, Savannah DesOrmeaux, John Little, Victoria Mack, and David Andrew Macdonald. (Photo: Jerry Dalia)
“Red Velvet” by Lolita Chakrabarti at the Shakespeare includes (from left) Garrett Lawson, Savannah DesOrmeaux, John Little, Victoria Mack, and David Andrew Macdonald. (Photo: Jerry Dalia)

The Director:

Bonnie J. Monte is in her twenty-sixth season with the Theatre, most recently directing Exit the King, last season’s The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Guardsman. Ms. Monte serves as the Artistic Director at the Shakespeare Theatre; under her leadership, the Theatre has evolved into one of the most respected classical theatres in the nation. She has directed over 60 acclaimed productions for the company during her tenure.

The Artistic Staff:

The show’s visual elements will be brought to life through the work of set designer Bethanie Wampol, lighting designer Burke Wilmore, and costume designer Paul Canada. Serving as production stage manager is Denise Cardarelli.

Tickets:

Single tickets for Red Velvet start as low as $25 for preview performances and $32 for regular performances. Prices range from $25 – $75. This season, The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey is initiating their 30 UNDER 30 Program, which offers $30 tickets for patrons aged 30 and under, with valid ID, tickets subject to availability. For tickets, call the Box Office at 973-408-5600 or visit www.ShakespeareNJ.org.

Special Performances:

For the same price as a regular ticket, the Symposium Series performances offer a post-show discussion with the cast and artistic staff. For Red Velvet, the symposia will be held on Saturday, September 17 at 2:00 p.m., and Saturday, September 24 at 2:00 p.m.

The Know the Show pre-show talks are offered again in 2016 free-of-cost. Prior to the show, an artist from The Shakespeare Theatre presents a pre-performance talk providing background information and an inside perspective on the production. This program is free with the purchase of a performance ticket, and for Red Velvet will be held Thursday, September 15 at 7:00 p.m., with the show commencing at 8:00 p.m. Ms. Monte will present this talk.

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