Directed by Kerry McGee
Assistant Directed by Emilia Pazniokas
Raven Bonniwell as Emilia
Paige O'Malley as Desdemona
Gabby Wolfe as Bianca
& Manuela Osorio on violin
Original Music by
Debora Crabbe & Jon Reynolds
Rachel Dixon & Makenzi Wentela
Assistant Costume Design
Louis E. Davis
Box Office Manager & Literary Director
Desdemona: A Play About A Handkerchief is performed at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, on the ancestral land of the Piscataway and Anacostan people.
A Brief Synopsis of Othello
Othello the Moor and famous Venetian general, having married Desdemona in secret, is dispatched to Cyprus to defend against a Turkish invasion. Iago, an officer in Othello’s service who has been passed over for promotion in favor of Cassio, confesses to hate Othello and plots to disrupt their marriage. Upon their arrival in Cyprus Iago discredits Cassio by getting him drunk, and Desdemona promises to intercede with Othello on his behalf. Desdemona loses a particular handkerchief embroidered with strawberries, a gift from Othello, and it is found by her handmaiden Emilia, whose husband Iago has long requested she steal it. Iago hides the handkerchief in Cassio’s house, and implies to Othello that Cassio and Desdemona are having an affair. Cassio discovers the handkerchief and gives it to Bianca, a local sex worker in love with him. Iago stages a conversation with Cassio about Bianca which Othello overhears and assumes is about Desdemona. Bianca interrupts their conversation and returns the handkerchief to Cassio, which Othello witnesses. Othello, driven mad, slaps Desdemona and accuses her of infidelity in front of her cousin Lodovico, recently arrived from Venice. Iago engineers an assault on Cassio, wounding him. Othello goes to Desdemona’s bedchamber and smothers her. Emilia confesses to the theft of the handkerchief, exposing Iago’s plot. Iago kills her, and Othello stabs him. Othello kills himself, and Iago is taken away to be executed. Cassio is installed as governor of Cyprus.
A Note from the Director
The Roe v. Wade decision was made ten years before my birth. By the time I was old enough to have an opinion on abortion rights, it was well-established in the courts: a 25-30 year-old decision. Even though the abortion debate was definitely still heated during the late 90s and early 2000s, the idea that a legal decision that had been around for that long could be overturned was unfathomable to me. Now, as we watch the Supreme Court undo 50 years of women’s rights (while also fearing what this decision could do to other, less firmly established, human rights) I am in awe of how this is possible.
All of a sudden, The three women of Othello grappling with a world in which they are secondary characters, a world where “women don’t figure” seems very real, very visceral, very immediate. To live in our current political climate where #MeToo can start a social media reckoning while congruently, legislation put in place by our feminist Second-Wave foremothers can be in jeopardy is confusing, frustrating, and ultimately, discouraging. Watching Desdemona try to find escapism within sexuality, Emilia long for money and class to fix her ailing marriage, and Bianca reckon with prejudice based on her career feels familiar. The frustration and discouragement that these women feel hits us to our cores - it likely would have even without the news leak from the Supreme Court, but now it can’t help but resonate more.
In the Third-Wave movement, we see a push towards inclusivity, but it's also very clear from this vantage point (Hello from the Fourth-Wave!) that the individualistic nature and white feminism tendencies of the Third-Wave are things that still need to be addressed today. Desdemona, Bianca, and Emilia find it hard to unite behind a single viewpoint, which may be a factor in their inevitable fate. They also fall victim to a tendency to "other" race, instead of welcoming an inclusive definition of womanhood that includes non-binary and racial awareness. If we want to protect women's rights in the years to come, we need to pay attention to the lessons learned in Paula Vogel's back room.
When Paula Vogel wrote this script, she wrote it as a series of 30-something “mini-scenes”, with no blackouts separating the scenes. We chose to look at those transitions as moments in the characters’ lives when they were not being held in place by the confines of Othello, or the patriarchal pressures of their world. The world beyond the back room beckons, and an almost lyrical lightness is possible in these in-between moments. However, as in life, sometimes the plot points carry too much weight (or too much joy!) and cannot be fully contained in the scripted scenes, spilling out in energy and mood into the transitions. We see this as the characters progress on their emotional journey through the play.
It’s important to remember that Paula Vogel wrote this as a comedy. As one of the most accomplished female playwrights of our time, she has that incredible ability to make us laugh while we’re also crying. Yes, these characters are classical archetypes on a doomed journey, but they are also funny, likable, crass, flawed, kind-hearted, passive-aggressive, moody, manipulative, and filled with joy to be alive. We choose to embrace them for all their good and bad qualities because they entertain us, and because we want to root for their survival, even knowing the play must end with their demise.
- Kerry McGee
RAVEN BONNIWELL (Emilia)
Raven Bonniwell co-founded We Happy Few in 2011 and is the Executive Director of the company. She appeared onstage in Macbeth, The Dog in the Manger, Henry V, A Midnight Dreary, Chalk, The Winter's Tale, Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet with WHF and was the choreographer for Lovers' Vows, Pericles and The Tempest. Other DC credits include: Theater Alliance: Night Before Christmas; Adventure Theatre: Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse; First Stage: Parfumerie; Source Festival: Perfect Arrangement, Exposure, Collider, and The Two UFOlogists; Nu Sass Productions: Priscilla Dreams the Answer, and Cavers.
KERRY MCGEE (Director)
Kerry is the Artistic Director and Marketing Director for WHF. Kerry has directed Lovers' Vows, Treasure Island, Hamlet Project: A Rock 'n' Roll Mixtape, Henry V and Chalk for WHF and acted in The Adventure of the Norwood Builder, Pericles, Dracula, A Midnight Dreary, and The Winter's Tale. Additionally, Kerry has directed and adapted the Loveday Brooke series for WHF, and has designed the packages for the Sherlock and Poe audio experiences. Other DC credits: Visions of Love (Pointless Theatre), Peepshow; Beertown; Toast (dog & pony dc), and Love's LaBeers Lost (LiveArtDC). Kerry worked in Richmond for many years, where she received awards for her work on A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. Kerry received her MFA in Theatre from VCU.
PAIGE O'MALLEY (Desdemona)
Paige is an actor, puppeteer, songstress, voiceover artist, burlesque babe, and home chef. She's worked on numerous projects like WHF’s Hamlet Project: A Rock n’ Roll Mixtape (performer); Frankenstein (devisor, performer, designer, puppeteer); and Treasure Island (devisor, performer, designer, songwriter). She has also voiced roles in all of the WHF Audio Dramas for at-home download (Poe, Loveday, and Sherlock). Paige has a degree in Creative Arts Therapy from New York University. She currently works as an audiobook narrator for the Library of Congress, a puppeteer for the DC Public School system, and a rep for Bookshop.org. For more on Paige’s work visit: https://www.paigeomalley.com/
EMILIA PAZNIOKAS (Assistant Director)
Emilia is an Artistic Associate with We Happy Few. She has worked in a variety of roles with WHF since 2018, including production assistant for Pericles and Count of Monte Cristo, producer, actor and devisor for the audio detective plays, and assistant director for Macbeth. Emilia works in arts education in DC, and is a graduate of the McCarter Theater internship program and Kenyon College.
GABBY WOLFE (Bianca)
Gabby is an actor, teaching artist, and box office wizard in Washington D.C. She has performed in Lovers' Vows, The Count of Monte Cristo, and the Loveday Brooke series (WHF). Other DC credits include: The Hub Theatre-The Burn*, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company- Romeo and Juliet, Adventure Theatre MTC-Tinkerbell (understudy), Nextstop Theatre- HIM (reading), Nu Sass Productions-T4TQ (10 Min Play Festival), Keegan Theatre-Womxn on Fire Theatre Festival (performer). Prior to working in DC, Gabby toured with VA Rep on Tour (Theatre IV), based out of Richmond, VA. She holds a B.A in Theatre from James Madison University. When not performing, she can be found with a cup of coffee, a good book, and hopefully some fresh baked goods.
We Happy Few is:
We Happy Company Members
We Happy Board Members
We Happy Thanks
The Coil Project
Light Switch Dance Company
DESDEMONA, A PLAY ABOUT A HANDKERCHIEF is presented by special arrangement with Broadway Licensing, LLC, servicing the Dramatists Play Service collection. (www.dramatists.com)
DESDEMONA was originally produced in association with
CIRCLE REPERTORY COMPANY by
BAY STREET THEATRE FESTIVAL
Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York July 1993.
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