Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief
by Paula Vogel
July 2012: at the JSB TEK BOX at The Cowles Center, downtown Minneapolis.
As the wrongly accused and suffering wife of Shakespeare’s tragic Moor, Othello, Desdemona has long been viewed as the “victim of circumstance.” But as Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel demonstrates in her comic deconstruction of Shakespeare’s play—aligning tongue-in-cheek humor while raising serious questions as to the role of women through the ages—Desdemona was far from the quivering naïf we’ve all come to know. “Vogel remains one of the smartest, most original and engaging playwrights to come along in the last few years.” —NY Newsday.
Having slept with Othello’s entire encampment, Desdemona revels in her bawdy tales of conquest. Her foils and rapt listeners are the other integral and re-imagined women of this Shakespeare tragedy: Emilia, Desdemona’s servant and the wife of Iago, and Bianca, now a majestic whore of Cyprus. The reluctantly loyal Emilia pesters Desdemona about a military promotion for her husband. Her motive, however, is that he leave her a wealthy widow, preferably sooner than later. Bianca, now a street-wise, yet painfully naive prostitute, visits Desdemona thinking she is a very good friend and fellow hooker (at least one night a week). Bianca thinks the worst when she soon discovers that Desdemona knows intimate details of the life of her lover, Cassio. Though Desdemona has never been intimate with Cassio, her life is soon in danger when her husband, Othello, also suspects her of infidelity.