Chesapeake Shakespeare Theatre’s six-play 2017-2018 season will feature a production of Red Velvet, the story of an extraordinary production of Othello, within a schedule of three well-loved Shakespeare plays, a Christmas classic (I bet you can guess which one), and a tale told by a mathematician, designed to blow your mind.
In 1833, in a London production of Othello, the great actor Edmund Kean, playing the title role, fell ill and couldn’t go on. But the company had an understudy — a man named Ian Aldridge — and thus, for the first time in the history of the London stage, the role of Othello would be played by a black man. In Red Velvet, playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s telling, Aldridge insisted on playing the role in a manner much more naturalistic than the stilted style of the time. This, of course, included scenes of passion with Othello’s wife, Desdemona — a role which was being played by the fiancée of Edmund Kean’s son. Chaos, and a certain amount of comedy, ensued.
The New York Times’ Ben Brantley noted, “you can experience firsthand what it must have felt like to be part of one seriously rattled London theater audience in 1833….You understand very well why such acting would have jolted theatergoers and critics, poised on the cusp of the Victorian era, right out of their hidebound minds.” Red Velvet will be the third of Chesapeake Shakespeare’s productions, and will run from February 2 to 25 of next year. Shirley Basfield Dunlap, Chair of Morgan State’s Drama Department, will direct.
The company’s season will start with Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s tale of a band of assassins’ unsuccessful attempt to preserve their country’s fragile democracy. This tale of bewildering shifts in popular support will run from September 29 to October 29, 2017.
Chesapeake Shakespeare will then turn to A Christmas Carol, a story about — well, you know what it’s about. But the company’s original script sets Scrooge’s story of memory, empathy and redemption in 19th-century Baltimore, and provides a lesson in regional history as well as the lesson in generosity of spirit which Dickens intended. From December 8 to 23 of this year.
After Red Velvet, the company will take on Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, a story of a king whose rage and jealousy costs him everything, and who somehow gets it all back. Artistic Director Ian Gellanar notes that the company has never performed The Winter’s Tale before. Chesapeake Shakespeare has engaged Isabelle Anderson to direct. The Winter’s Tale will run from March 9 to April 7, 2018.
One lazy summer afternoon, a British mathematician named Charles Dodgson decided to entertain the neighbor’s children with a strange tale of a young girl who fell down a rabbit hole and discovered a world where logic was turned upside-down. The tale became Alice in Wonderland and the teller of it became Lewis Carroll. Chesapeake Shakespeare will perform Eva Le Gallienne and Florida Friebus’ adaptation from April 27 to May 27 of next year.
Chesapeake Shakespeare will wrap up its season with a production of another Shakespeare, Midsummer Night’s Dream, at PFI Historic Park in Ellicott City, Maryland. The outdoor venue will see the antics of four mismatched lovers, a sprite in possession of a powerful aphrodisiac, and the worst production of Pyramus and Thisbe in human history from June 22 to July 29, 2018.