It doesn’t take comprehensive knowledge of Shakespeare or the play “Othello” in order to enjoy this previous weekend’s production of “Desdemona: A Play about a Handkerchief” performed by the Armstrong Masquers. At first glance, this is a play that provides a glimpse behind the curtain at the lives of three women who don’t receive a lot of exposition. Junior theater major, Kenneth Jones describes the play as, “providing an intense, three dimensional look Shakespeare’s female characters.”
The show revolves around three characters Desdemona (Emmi Frankum), Emilia (Amanda Gibson), Bianca (Brianna McDonald) and, of course, a handkerchief. Every moment these actresses are on stage, the spotlight simply could not be wide enough. The complexity shown in these characters is magnificent. Emilia is a constant source of laughter with her “common folk” dialect, but will get bone chillingly serious on the matters of marriage. Desdemona displays an insatiable longing for something greater than being the wife of a great man and conveys her mischievousness so well that the audience can see the schemes forming in her head. Finally, Bianca radiates confidence with her facial expressions, laid back attitude, and no-nonsense way of doing business. However, she also shows a deep affection for Cassio, which shows a side of the character that goes unseen in “Othello”.
The setting of the show was modeled after a film studio, complete with a camera crew, a live-feed of what was being “recorded”, and even a crew member manning the clapperboard. Each scene would end regardless of emotional context, with the actresses breaking character, joking around, moving props, or preparing for the next scene. This was a very entertaining way of keeping the audience engaged, giving the stars breathing room, and streamlining the prop changes between scenes.
The show as a whole was fairly light-hearted, but got very “heavy and real” in an instant. The show itself portrays these three women just “trying to get through life and it offers different perspectives where they’re in situation where women don’t have a lot of say” as stated by assistant stage manager and sophomore theater major, Madison Watkins.
This is the crux of the play: perspectives. At the heart of this play lie three women trying desperately to assert their existence in a man’s world. Each of them have their own solutions to their similar problems. This trio is living in a time when they were a commodity and an afterthought. This leads them to respond differently.
Whether it be by striving to achieve the ideal of a “free woman”, marrying the supposed love of your life, or simply persevering through a marriage you despise and praying your partner dies first. They all have visions of better lives for themselves but they cannot rise out of their status by their own merit. This is the real tragedy of this show, apart from Desdemona’s untimely and unsettling demise. A line by Emilia captures this perpetual struggle, she states that “Women just don’t figure in their heads. That’s the hard truth. Men only see each other in their eyes… Only each other.”