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You may want to brush up on your Othello before watching this performance. The piece is, in essence, a dialogue with Shakespeare’s original play. And, although writerToni Morrison would not call herself a feminist, the result of this dialogue is a womanist revision of the play’s characters and the norms set by the era in which they lived. Morrison’s masterful tracing of sly, systemic modes of enslavement–of women, of Africans, of “others” and “villains”–is carefully brought to the fore through a series of monologues delivered by Desdemona (played by Elizabeth Marvel) in the afterlife.

It is a project worthy of Morrison.

And project is indeed the right word for the production.  As Peter Sellars emphasizes in his introduction to the performance (he gives an opening talk each night), the piece is neither strictly theatre nor concert.  It is an ongoing project, a dialogue, and an exploration in which the audience are invited to take part.

Desdemona’s dramatic monologues are interspersed with and layered over by Rokia Traore’s haunting and very African music.  Rokia Traore, through her music and finally through direct dialogue, plays Desdemona’s childhood nurse, the African Barbary.  And while the character is only given brief mention in Shakespeare, relating how she dies of a broken heart singing an epic tale of love and loss, Morrison gives her equal staging–and equal voice–with Desdemona in this project.

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