SALT LAKE CITY — Producing a Shakespeare play is a traditional go-to for up and coming theatre companies. There are no royalties; the play can be staged anywhere on a minimal budget; and the company can easily showcase whatever ensemble has been assembled. There is also a great deal of freedom to layer a concept onto a classical text. These concepts are usually applied to make the antiquated nature of Shakespearean language accessible for modern audiences. Entire theses have been written on the relative effectiveness of conceptual Shakespeare, but in my experience, sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. The Dark Lady Shakespeare Company is only a few months old and has inaugurated its existence with a brash and ballsy concept of setting Othello in the world of Mad Max with an all female cast. Co-founders Julianna Boulter and Kris Jennings star as Iago and Othello, respectively, and lead a capable nine-person ensemble, directed by M. Chase Grant.
I want to be able to say how much I admire the fact that this company did a Shakespeare production in just over an hour. I want to be able to recognize the quality of performers’ mastery of the text, even though there were times when the text went too fast to make sense without prior knowledge of the play. I want to celebrate truly committed ensemble members Eve Speer Garcia and Alisha Hagey and how the concept fit better than I expected it to fit. There were forced moments, like the replacement of “put money in thy purse” with the phrase “put guzzoline in thy tank.” The staged violence could have been sharper, but it was on the verge of being a viable choice.
This company has so much potential (even though the characters lacked the nuance that is so vital to this particular play); the play was energetic and used every inch of the unconventional space they performed in. However, none of these positives can negate the incomprehensible choice of not only casting a white performer as Othello, but also eradicating all reference to blackness from the performed text. Race is an inherent component of this play. To ignore it entirely feels very irresponsible and was incredibly disappointing to witness. I expect more from members of this theatrical community and I hope to see The Dark Lady Shakespeare Company meet their potential in a more conscientious way in the future.