Last October, Pulitzer Prize- and Obie Award-winning dramatist Paula Vogel served as guest lecturer for UCCS and TheatreWorks. In November, students on the hill staged a version of Vogel's The Mineola Twins.
Just a few months later, the "First Amendment feminist" is popping up locally again — this time courtesy of Springs Ensemble Theatre, kicking off its fifth season with the richly sultry and sassy play Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief. As is typical of a Vogel work, Desdemona not only flips Shakespeare's Othello on its head, but bends it over and gives it a good spanking.
A play about the Moor of Venice's, ahem, heroines, Desdemona rips the veil from seemingly "innocent" female characters to tell the behind-the-scenes story of Othello. They play a proverbial three-card Monte with a handkerchief, only to reveal true devious intent.
"It's like what Wicked did with the Wizard of Oz," says Sarah Shavers, SET's vice president. "It doesn't disturb the narrative of the Wizard of Oz at all; this play is the same thing with Othello."
Desdemona follows Othello's wife as she is betrayed with the simple prop of handkerchief. Could it be her loyal yet ambitious servant Emilia, who presses Desdemona for a more prestigious position for her husband in Othello's army? Or an unequivocally naïve prostitute named Bianca?
Shavers, who is both producing and starring as Emilia, notes that while she enthusiastically attended Vogel's lecture during the fall, the play had actually been on SET's schedule beforehand. Shaver herself first stumbled across it in an undergrad course.
"I remember how delightful it was," she says. "It's a play with three strong female characters. And though I have great respect for Shakespeare, our venue is too intimate to put on a large Shakespearean play, so this is a really nice way to pay homage to Shakespeare."