Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief

Local Arts Reviews

Desdemona, A Play About a Handkerchief: Nothing to Sneeze At

The Vortex,

through December 1

Running Time: 2 hrs

What's been going on, boys, in the chinks of our world machine while we've been out building the bulkheads of civilization according to our own dreams of power and shaping our society to reflect, you might say, the molecular structure of testosterone? What have those other ones been doing? Those other ones: the bit players, the supporting roles, the mirrors that exist to reflect our best image of ourselves back to us, to assure us -- by their self-abnegation -- that we're the important ones. You know, the women. Well, one of them, Paula Vogel, has been pretty busy. Seems this frail has written herself a play, my brothers. And not just any stageable story in which life is properly presented, but a play about what they are up to. It's Shakespeare's Othello, specifically, but told from their point of view and as if Desdemona were just the sort of wanton slammerkin the titular Moor was tricked into thinking she was. But the thing is, my hearties, this is presented as if such weren't shameful at all, as if women had -- get this -- sexual desires and emotional autonomy just like we do. Christ! Yes, I know. Perhaps you'd better sit down; it gets worse. This Vogel is abetted here by a troupe yclept iron belly muses -- an uppity cabal of skirts who refuse to simply relax and enjoy our sovereignty. They've taken the Vortex, had Sharon Sparlin and Malia Peake transmute it with new structure and light, and called in Deanna Shoemaker as director. And this Shoemaker spares no skill in her job, moving the actresses portraying the once-familiar (i.e., minor) characters of Desdemona, her Oirish maid Emilia, and the trollop Bianca, so well and honing their passions and quietudes to so fine a point that you can believe that they believe this topsy-turvy paradigm they're suggesting. Holly Babbitt is Desdemona, and she comes across like you know such a swank fox would in real life -- although her silly claim of more realistically masculine sex urges is almost too much for even her skills to encompass. And Tamara Beland is Emilia -- the sensible one -- portraying the stalwart maid even more commendably than that character suffers her husband's understandable disdain and alleged lack of prowess in the sack. And Lee Eddy's the lowborn nitwit whore Bianca, and she's like this irresistible combination of Lucille Ball and Don Knotts, and so vulnerable that a man would feel almost sorry for the character -- if he weren't already paying to fuck her, you know what I mean? The show occurs in a set initially obscured by lines of hanging laundry, and only after we've seen an abbreviated joke of the Othello tale on video. The whole thing's intercut with projected images of How Things Really Are Between Men and Women, and staged as if it were being captured for the movies -- clapper-sounds and all. It's a damned effective production, boys, even though -- of course -- it's an impossible fairy tale. But don't mistake me: It's powerful enough to, like, foment a thing or two. So maybe you should go stag to this skewed re-envisioning of Bardic drama and leave the babes shopping at Victoria's Secret or Scullery Depot or wherever else they prefer to acquire what they need to keep us happy.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
All the Way
All the Way
In Zach Theatre's staging of this epic political drama about LBJ, the fight for civil rights feels particularly urgent

Robert Faires, May 1, 2015

Random Acts of Magic
Random Acts of Magic
The 2015 batch of Out of Ink 10-minute plays is a satisfying buffet of silliness and thoughtfulness

Elizabeth Cobbe, May 1, 2015

More by Wayne Alan Brenner
Austin Homes Tour: The Art of the Craftsman Style
Austin Craftsman Homes Tour
John Ruskin's ghost will be nearby, eating breakfast tacos and smiling

April 24, 2019

Princess Mans Up For a Female Sci-Fi Future
Princess Mans Up For a Female Sci-Fi Future
Alexis Gideon + Michael O'Neill's 'Out There' is in here on Thursday

April 16, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, Paula Vogel, iron belly muses, Sharon Sparlin, Malia Peake, Deanna Shoemaker, Holly Babbitt, Tamara Beland, Lee Eddy

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle