Opening night of the Mills production, “Desdemona, A Play About A Handkerchief” included three great actresses, a cockney accent, and 30 scenes.
Desdemona is an intense play, focusing on the relationships of three women who come from diverse social backgrounds.
Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca are all characters from Shakespeare’s play “Othello,” and they are given new life through this Mills production.
Class and social status are themes of the play, and the plot delves into they how influence the interactions of the characters.
The play starts with Emilia taking Desdemona’s handkerchief, which, in “Othello” causes the demise of Desdemona and Othello’s relationship. The handkerchief, a present Othello gave Desdemona, ends up in the hands of Emilia’s husband and is used to create jealousy and suspicion of Desdemona’s whereabouts and her faithfulness.
The three actresses all capture their characters’ distinct positions in society and the complex relationships that develop from their disparate stations. With great chemistry, Desdemona, (Maryssa Wanlass) the daughter of a senator and Othello’s new wife, at times shows true friendship with her maid Emilia, but still uses her class and position to separate them.
Emilia (Elizabeth Gomez) is the archetypal working class woman who depends on Desdemona for small raises and promotions. Gomez portrays the character aptly-a woman who has no power over Desdemona even though she has taken care of her since childhood.
And then there is Bianca (Allison Smith), the accented whore from Cyprus who dominates scenes with humor and strength.
The costumes were fitting of the women and their characters; Desdemona in layers of flowing white, Emilia in heavy maid’s dress and Bianca in a flashy black and red dress with high heels.
The play’s 30 scenes were like snapshots, divided by lighting and music. There was never a complete blackout, but the lights would dim and the actresses would reposition themselves for the next dialogue. Scenes wouldn’t last for more than 10 minutes-some would only be seconds and a series of scenes would complete one conversation.
The division of one conversation topic into mini scenes gave the impression that time was elapsing but mostly gave it a feeling like looking through a photo album.
The music, which at first was surprisingly modern, a kind of techno, didn’t take away from the tense mood.
At times the play lagged, and felt a bit long, where a series of scenes would have flowed better if it had stayed one longer scene; the quick pauses sometimes slowed the play down.
The set was simple and consisted of laundry props-a tub, washboard and clotheslines. The actresses sat on a one of two benches or on the table.