Red Velvet

December 1, 2017

January 21, 2018

CST's Courtyard Theater

by Lolita Chakrabarti
directed by Gary Griffin

A Letter from the Director

Gary GriffinDear Friends,

Sidney Poitier. James Earl Jones. Paul Robeson. These names evoke countless powerful performances spanning legendary careers. In Red Velvet, we step back a few generations to meet an artist with a similar passion for his craft, but whose story has been lost over time. Let me introduce you to a major nineteenth-century Shakespearean actor named Ira Aldridge—the first black man to ever play Othello on the London stage.

I first heard of Aldridge in graduate school, but knew nothing of the controversy surrounding his 1833 debut at Covent Garden until I read Lolita Chakrabarti’s play. Edmund Kean, the greatest Shakespearean actor of his age, collapses on stage while performing Othello. The young, African American Ira Aldridge is brought in to take his place. This is at the same moment that England is debating the abolition of slavery. Ira Aldridge represented a radical change in theater practice—not only because of the color of his skin but also demonstrated in his grounded, authentic acting style. I can think of no more perfect actor than Stratford Festival favorite Dion Johnstone to portray Ira, and we are so pleased to have him with us on this journey.

The play feels very personal on many levels. Reading scene after scene, I discovered the depth, complexity and passion in the writing, becoming fascinated by what felt like such a fresh and modern take on this story. This writing is fearless. Red Velvet is now playing through January 21—and I hope you will join us so that you, too, can discover this compelling story of an unsung theatrical pioneer.



Gary Griffin
Director, Red Velvet

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