Looking for a meaningful date night or evening out with your teen? Don’t miss the high drama at Bag&Baggage’s Red Velvet, now showing through August 3.
Red Velvet, a play by Lolita Chakrabarti, is now showing at Bag&Baggage Productions’ intimate Vault Theater in downtown Hillsboro. This period drama tells the true story of Ira Aldridge, a nineteenth century Black American actor who spent most of his career in Europe. The play focuses on the historic night Aldridge takes over the title role in Shakespeare’s Othello at Theatre Royal Covent Garden. He is the first Black actor to do so in London. Outside the theater, protestors from both sides riot in the streets while the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 is debated in Parliament.
Recommended for audiences ages 14 and up, Red Velvet has a two hour and fifteen-minute run time, including one intermission. It starts off slow, with the first several confusing minutes entirely in German, but hang in there. It soon picks up and there are several riveting scenes that had Thursday night’s preview audience hanging on to every word.
If you choose to bring your children, be prepared to talk with them about slavery and racism. The production contains several scenes that will (and should) make you uncomfortable. But other than the “n” word, which is used once and taken directly from a real, disturbing newspaper review of Aldridge’s performance, there is nothing else inappropriate for families. “Kids that would get the most out of this would be those who have interest in theater, performance, or history,” says Red Velvet director, Nik Whitcomb. “It’s a show for the learners!”
Indeed, it is. Arrive at least 15 minutes early so you have time to read the director’s and historian’s notes in the program, a practice I really appreciate. These pages provide insight that makes Chakrabarti’s story even more meaningful. And, for a better understanding of Red Velvet, all theatergoers should be familiar with the basic plot of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice.
Othello, a Black general in the Venetian army, has just secretly married Desdemona, a young, white noblewoman. Othello’s friend, Iago, having just been passed up for a promotion by Othello, plots revenge. Iago manipulates Othello into falsely believing Desdemona is having an affair, and in a jealous rage, Othello murders her. Upon discovering the truth, Othello kills himself in despair.
There’s high drama in the play, and in the play-within-the-play. Thankfully, there are also moments of comic relief spread throughout.
Red Velvet runs Thursdays-Sundays through August 6, with ASL interpretation on August 3. Tickets are available for all remaining performances, with a pay-what-you-will starting price of $20. All seats are general admission, and with only 4 rows on each side of the long, narrow playing space, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Late seating is at the discretion of the theater as the aisles are also used as entrances and exits for the actors. Free parking is plentiful and there are lots of restaurants within walking distance for a pre-show dinner.
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