Theater Review / TONI MORRISON’S HAUNTING PLAY

Fringe Theater presents Toni Morrison’s haunting Desdemona Feb 19-23 in the performance space of the Sidebar Key West, located at 504 Angela Street. 

The play was first produced in Vienna in 2011 as part of an international Fringe Festival. This  other-worldly performance piece gives voice to Shakespeare’s doomed heroine, Desdemona, as she grapples with the cultural issues and personal challenges that led to her murder. 

Toni Morrison’s Desdemona creates a back-story for the various characters that casts off the façades portrayed in Shakespeare’s Othello and imagines conversations between Desdemona and the various players in her ultimate murder. An African maid identified by Shakespeare only as Barbary, was the inspiration for the entire play. The fleeting reference by Shakespeare led Morrison to ask, who were these people, and what led them to behave the way they did? 

The piece was praised by the New York Times as having “a prose so precise and charged with pain and wonder that it becomes poetry.”  Morrison pulled from Shakespeare and folk lore to create this story. Fringe Theater is integrating dance, music, and unique staging to tell the tale. 

Desdemona is directed by Rebecca Tomlinson, Fringe Theater’s Managing Artistic Director. She worked with a large creative team to bring her vision to the stage, including choreographer Shelia Bellefleur, lighting designer RJ Conn, singing bowls musician Daashia Cochran, and videographer Aramis Ikatu. In addition, to acting, the two performers were instrumental in developing the sound design for the show. 

The original staging of the play featured one actor. She played all of the characters including Othello himself. Fringe’s production will use two actors – two women from two ethnic backgrounds. “I feel like this casting strengthens the story telling. It’s also made the play very sensual – an important element in a story of passion, rage, and murder,” explains Tomlinson.

The actor playing Desdemona is Martha Hooten, who was seen by Fringe audiences in last summer’s production of The Pride. Su Nubia plays Othello, as well as all the other characters in the play. Fringe audiences are most used to seeing Su behind the light and sound board at Fringe’s shows. “We have such a talented crew,” adds Tomlinson. “You’ll see them popping up everywhere this season!”  

Morrison once said in an interview, “Someone asked me if I was intimidated by Shakespeare’s language, and I said, ‘No, I had to create my own kind of language that was worthy of the characters.” And Morrison certainly did.

Tickets for Desdemona are available at www.fringetheater.org or by calling the Fringe Box Office 305-731-0581.  Seating is extremely limited, so advance tickets are encouraged. Desdemona runs Feb 19-23 at 7pm, with a special 5pm Happy Hour show on Feb 22.  General Admission Tickets begin at $35.   

Fringe Theater is Key West’s community-focused theater. Fringe is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to creating unique opportunities for people to see and do theater. Learn more at www.fringetheater.org