RED VELVET is the story of Ira Aldridge, the first African-American to play Othello in the 1800’s, who faced discrimination at every turn. This long, two-hour-and-twenty-minute production recounts the time when Aldridge was asked to step into the legendary shoes of Edmund Kean. His performances were panned, his casting railed against by fellow actors, and even his appearance was critiqued in the newspapers.
Ken Early, known for his grace and elegance, embodies Aldridge with poise and class. He finds support from Kelly Mengelkoch’s “Ellen Tree.” Mengelkoch always finds a connection point with her fellow actors, the audience, and the material. Aldridge also has an ally in his friend, Brent Vimtrup’s “Pierre Laporte,” the theatre owner and “Henry Forester” (ETC intern and Xavier grad Eric Minon.)
Aldridge’s biggest detractor is Charles Kean, Edmund’s son. Played by the amazing Jared Joplin, this character injects life into the play and gives us a much-needed villain. Rounding out the cast are Becca Howell, a now-regular on the ETC stage, who improves every time I see her. Also on stage is the always proficient Jeremy Dubin, the engaging Burgess Byrd, and another ETC intern Natasia Reinhardt. They are all fine actors and do their best to tell this story.
Lolita Chakrabarti’s script, while important and timely, lacks energy. There’s so much dialogue; director Brian Isaac Phillips tries to keep the pace moving but there’s not much in the way of action. It’s a static script and ultimately doesn’t give the cast or director much to work with in terms of action or momentum. Several in the matinée audience I was with rose to their feet at the end, however. In other words, don’t take my word for it – you might enjoy this one more than me.
It’s not a coincidence that two blocks away, Cincinnati Shakespeare Company is producing OTHELLO during the same timeframe as this play about “Othello.” I love that our theatre community is capable of and that two of the cities best houses can work together and collaborate on projects like this. I hope these types of partnerships continue in the future.
RED VELVET reminds us that the issues of racism that we are dealing with today are not new; isn’t it sad that we’re still facing these same problems almost 200 years later?