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Red Velvet

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Amidst the social uproar of England’s debate to end slavery, 30 years before America, A black American actor performed Shakespeare’s Othello on the professional stage for the first time sending shock waves through the 19th century British cultural world. The true story of African-American actor Ira Aldridge, Red Velvet is an exciting journey through a little known historical moment, engaging questions along the way of racism, sexism and the responsibility and value of art in the face of social change.

point: Please proofread your work. Should be Red Velvet, not, “red velvet.”

-5 points: Did not report on this specific event/performance.

-2.5 points: Did not identify actors.

-5 points: Did not offer an opinion on whether the event was worth seeing.

here is more information about the show

UWM’s ‘Red Velvet’ is a Stand-out Production

By Lolita Chakrabarti

Directed by Bill Watson


Ira Aldridge was the first black actor to play in Othelloat London’s Covent Garden in 1833, the same year slavery was abolished in the United Kingdom. While he was praised for his innovative acting abilities, he suffered privately—and professionally—as the lingering effects of racism and prejudice continued to take a center stage in his life.

Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet explores that momentous—and explosive—debut, moving back and forth in time as Aldridge recalls that experience 26 years later while touring in Poland. Now a tired, sick man at the age of 60, he would die on tour there.

UW-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts’ production showcases emerging student talent in the 12-member cast. It’s those standout performances which outshine the writing in Chakrabarti’s play. There are some great character studies here, but the ideas dash all over the stage: casting and race, threatened male pride and ingrained societal prejudice, women in personal and professional servitude, etc.

Aldridge is a complex, fascinating character; fearless, enigmatic, a trailblazer professionally (a precursor to method acting) and personally (married to a Caucasian English woman). Josh Dukes plays him as a constantly defiant and angry young man, losing some of the nuance to showcase his complexity of emotions. It’s later in the two-hour drama (with a 15-minute intermission) that we see a softer, more open side emerge with fellow actor Ellen Tree (charmingly played by Emily Schneider) and his encounter with a Jamaican servant (Kayla Hall in a nice turn) who challenges his Othello performance while serving him tea.

In double casting, director Bill Watson has wisely chosen Noah Turks as the German-speaking Casimir (authentic command of the language) and in the role of actor Henry Forester, displaying a level of experience well beyond his young years. Ditto for Tim Gutknecht as Aldridge’s browbeaten servant Terence as well as actor Bernard Warde. His bellicose, bathetic manner brings much needed energy and exuberance to such a stately, prim setting.

And there are many other solid performances as well: Tessa Larson, Simon Earle and especially Austin Lepper, who manages a very real French accent as the producer, Pierre Laporte, who brings on Aldridge only to remove him as the pressure mounts.

“Theater is a political act,” says Pierre at the end of Act I, in initial support of the African American actor. “It is the debate of our times.” It still is. Red Velvet is a timely reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same—regardless of the century we’re living in.


Written by Lolita Chakrabarti and directed by Bill Watson, Red Velvet is set amid the social uproar of Britain’s debate to end slavery. Some 30 years before it happened in our country, an African American actor performed the title role in William Shakespeare’s Othello on the professional stage for the first time—sending shock waves through the culture of 19th-century Britain. Red Velvet comprises the true story of this actor, Ira Aldridge.

Ira Aldridge (1807-67) was an American (and later British) stage actor and playwright who made his career largely on the London stage and in Europe—especially in Shakespearean roles. The New York City-born Aldridge remains the only actor of African American descent among the 33 actors of the English stage honored with bronze plaques at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, which is located in The Bard’s hometown. Red Velvet is a journey through a little-known historical moment that presents engaging questions throughout its storytelling concerning still relevant issues of racism, sexism and the responsibility and value of art in the face of continuous social change.

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