Vogel's play tells Othello story from women's points of view

Playwright Paula Vogel has taken a classic Shakespearian tragedy and twisted it around so it's told from a female point of view.

"Desdemona, A Play About a Handkerchief" is based on "Othello" but looks at the story through the eyes of three women. The dark comedy opens Thursday night in the Inge Theatre in Murphy Hall as part of Kansas University's William Inge Memorial Theatre Series.

The play is directed by Joy Richmond, a doctoral student at KU.

"Vogel has brilliantly and inventively reinterpreted the women of Shakespeare's drama and, in the process, examined stereotypical female roles both in the present and from the past," Richmond said. "She basically fills in the gaps left by the original (play) with regard to the women, and transforms archetypal constructions of Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca into lively, earthy, real women with desires, intelligence and, yes, imperfections."

"Othello," performed recently at KU by University Theatre, follows Othello the Moor, who is baited by Iago into believing that his faithful wife, Desdemona, is having an affair with Cassio. Othello eventually kills Desdemona is a jealous rage. Emilia is a servant who sets Desdemona up by giving her handkerchief to Iago so he can pretend that he found it in Cassio's possession. Bianca is a prostitute who is having an affair with Cassio.

In Vogel's version, the audience discovers Desdemona's secret: She has slept with everyone except Cassio.

"Desdemona has even covered for Bianca at her whorehouse on Tuesday nights. And Desdemona is in admiration of Bianca's 'free lifestyle,' while Bianca is deeply yearning for a quiet life with her lover Cassio," she said. "The servant, Emilia, also enters the plot as the mediator, attempting to put some sense into Desdemona."

Richmond said that while a knowledge of "Othello" adds to the satire of Vogel's play, people unfamiliar with Shakespeare's drama will not be lost. The play deals with adult themes and includes strong language.

Richmond is specializing in theater history and Irish drama and theater. She received her bachelor's and master's degrees from Texas A&M; University-Commerce. Her directing experience includes "Six Degrees of Separation" and "Another Antigone," both produced by the University Playhouse in Commerce, Tex.


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