Students are set to depict a gender-bending twist on the Shakespearean tragedy "Othello" at Chapman University. Two women, Sarah Pierce and Addison Turner, will portray the male characters lago and Michael Cassio, respectively.
Popular themes that play a role in "Othello" include sexual intimidation, racism, and revenge. These distinctive points provided the impetus for identity politics to alter the original format, bringing it to its new, gender-bending state.
Apparently viewing well-known characters in a new light is not easy.
Turner, who is portraying the handsome, noble lieutenant Cassio, told her school publication that one of the paramount obstacles for the crew has been viewing the play’s characters as people instead of men.
“It’s less how are we going to make this work and more ‘how do we personally connect to them as a person and not them as a man. But how do we connect to that person. It’s more about them as people,” Turner said.
Theater professor Thomas Bradac, whose specialty is “Directing and Acting Shakespeare” and is directing this specific play, came up with the idea of the gender-bending version of "Othello." However, defying gender roles is not the only social justice theme in the aberrant drama. According to Bradac, elements of two progressive social movements, Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, play intrinsic roles in terms of character development.
Bradac told Red Alert Politics in a statement that the casting decision came down to the lack of female parts in "Othello." He gave all students, regardless of gender, the opportunity to try out for roles and says that "the two women cast in the roles of Iago and Cassio had the strongest auditions for those roles." Bardac also points out that Shakespeare's company consisted of all men and men often played female roles.
“I think it’s a story of choice more than anything. Especially with our iteration of it and having Cassio and Iago being women,” Lavelle Newman told the campus newspaper. Newman portrays the title character of the play, the Moorish general Othello.
“That kind of shifts it from race to misogyny to a certain aspect,” Newman added. “But at the end of the day, it’s a story of choice and whether or not (Othello) allows the rage to kill to consume him or the will to love to consume him.”
Bradac also explained that they are doing a contemporary staging of the play set in a modern military community, where women participate in all facets of the military.
The production starts February 16th and lasts until March 3rd. The play will take place at the Chapman University Waltmar Theatre.
Isaiah Denby is a college freshman from Tampa Bay, Fla., studying economics and political science.