Dutchman and Desdemona

Plays by Imamu Amiri Baraka and Paula Vogel

Imamu Amiri Baraka's 1964 fable about the violence resulting from white appropriation of black culture is probably more an important play than it is good theater. Director John Warren achieves some nice effects in this Bare Bones Theater production: a strobe light for some figurative sequences, an effective, simple set, and well-chosen blues and jazz to set the mood. Manon Banta as Lula does the best acting I've seen from her, teasing and jiving, using her sexuality and her wits to gain power over Clay. But she can't pull off the climactic act of violence (you don't see the necessary unhinged anger), and as Clay, B. Chico Purdiman is too soft-spoken and cowed. He's overearnest and underconfident, making Lula's destruction of him too easy. When Clay is roused to anger, Purdiman can be quite good, but it's not a complete performance.

The evening's second act, Desdemona, Paula Vogel's semicomic take on Othello, features energetic direction by Michelle Draeger and a trio of terrific actresses. Vogel's script contains about 30 short scenes, recasting Desdemona (Lauren Grace) as a pampered wife who has whored around with everyone but Cassio. Emilia (Ellen Scarpaci) is drawn as a conservative Catholic who submits to husband Iago even though she hates him, and Bianca (Gwen Lindsay) here becomes the crude, working-class madam of the local bordello. Grace gives Desdemona a proper British accent that belies her naughty streak, Scarpaci lends Emilia an earnest, unschooled Irish brogue, and Lindsay bleats out Bianca's gutter observations in a cockney burr while wearing too-tight PVC pants. (Lisa Peters' costumes couldn't be better.) All three have great comic timing, and the show is a lot of fun. However, Vogel's insights don't add up to much -- a patriarchal society causes women to be the victims of themselves as much as of men. Yet despite their failures, these two shows make for a worthwhile evening.

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