We go back to the 1600’s, when it is believed OTHELLO, was written by Shakespeare. It is about a Moor, a decorated warrior from the Southern coast of Africa sent as ambassador to the British Empire. He was dark, not unlike the Madras Indian from India, or Australian aborigine, thus the contrasting features to the English: cheek bones, lips, noses.
His body was a foretaste of African American footballer Jim Brown (in his heyday), boxer Jack Johnson. The real Othello was a threat to English white men, their women were looking at black prowess, and Desdemona, was the first to fall.
OTHELLO, the play became a hit, white men lined up to play the role, but painted their faces in black. And then in 1833, an African American, believed to have been born in Bel Air Md., but listed out of New York City, was offered to the role at the London theater, in Coventry, England. He was replacing a well known white actor who fell ill.
Despite the fact that Ira Aldridge had professional acclaim throughout Europe, London became his test. He was about to perform at the epicenter of the theater world. (the running back Supreme, the boxing match of the Century, how will London respond?)
The reviews were devastating, the male writers saw him as a threat, his pronunciations too animated, his physical contact with the female actors too romantic. Linking his masculinity to a pied piper, pulling white female mice to his secret hideaway for intimate proclivities. London wanted the old OTHELLO, the white Othello, in black face paint.
What happens in the end, you will have to see when you attend the play, RED VELVET at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Theatre on Calvert Street, downtown Baltimore.
CHRISTIAN GIBBS is outstanding, supported by a very able supporting cast. I think this is perhaps the theatre’s best, I have seen.
GIBBS is moved to tears when asked him about the final scene in RED VELVET. (See video).
It’s 185 years since 1833, and we are still experiencing the past : MAKE AMERICA (Othello) GREAT (White) AGAIN !!