Othello, Stripped Down: Speaking with Women’s Naked Seniors

Women’s Naked Shakespeare is provocative for several reasons. There are the silly ones; girls kissing girls on stage, girls fighting girls on stage, and girls spattered in fake blood making bawdy double-entendres while reciting lengthy iambic monologues.

Of greater interest however is what makes Women’s Naked Shakespeare artistically provocative. Because Women’s Naked is an all female troupe, each performance is a reversal, and inversion of the way The Bard’s plays were originally performed. It is fun, and tongue in cheek to watch Women’s talented ladies play Shakespeare’s often terrible men. This semester’s production of Othello, directed by Jessica Adler and stage managed by Shirin Johnson, involves many despicable men. Played by Simone Recasner, a member of the soon graduating class and veteran of The London Theater program, this production’s Othello is one such man.

“Othello has become a huge part of my life, both in and out of the rehearsal room.” said the actor after Thursday’s final run through. “So much of the work for Naked, especially with such a massive weight of a man like Othello, comes from outside of rehearsal.”

The vigor behind Simone’s performance can, according to the actor, in part be attributed to close work with the script.

“The most difficult part was definitely conveying the weight this man feels when all my life experiences add to just over 22 years. It is a role written for someone who has a lifetime of experiences in their back pocket. The emotions in the piece are at immense levels, are heightened.”

Tsebiyah Derry, who plays Emilia, echoed Simone’s sentiments, speaking on the emotional intensity portrayed in Othello.

“The most difficult part for me in Othello definitely is Emilia finding Desdemona’s body and accepting her death in the end. I struggle with it every time. She has to go through the full spectrum of grief in just a moment, before she starts to rail on Othello. [It was] One of the scariest and most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had onstage.”

Tsebiyah joined Women’s Naked Shakespeare in October and will graduate this Spring. In speaking to the Senior about her experience with Women’s, she mentioned that after the show had been cast, rehearsals took place multiple times a week. She talked about the seriousness of the character work that the cast did, and the time invested by both actors and crew.

The level of dedication is palpable in the 90 minute production. The 11 actors move around the right half of Slonim Living Room, jumping off of railings, roughhousing on the hardwood, smooching on the window seat, and using their creative talent to transform the otherwise familiar space into the interior of Shakespeare’s Venice. Simone takes the air out of the room. Her Othello is immense and booming. Initially a sexually charged character, his motivations shift as his mind is poisoned by jealousy. Simone strides across the stage, chummy with her soldiers and tender with her on stage wife (Played by Montana, Class of 2014) in one scene, wounded and explosive the next.

Simone acknowledged the intensity of Women’s, but is grateful to her cast members for their incredible support.

“Yeah, when you have rehearsal that ends at bloody 12 am, yes buttons get pushed, but at the end of the day we’ve got each other’s backs and that is very, very comforting.”

Simone also credits Women’s Naked Shakespeare for the personal importance of Othello for her this year. “The camaraderie is very specific to Women’s. A real sense of bonding takes place.”

Sitting in on rehearsal is demonstrative of exactly this closeness. The women involved joke with each other in a manner that might be more expected of a men’s soccer team. There is teasing and pinching, butt slapping and swearing. Clad in all black, the ladies warm up, rehearse and clean up together late into most nights.

“I have to say that NakedShakes is a large part of the reason why my last year at Sarah Lawrence was absolutely amazing. I got to make some theatre that I was proud of with my friends, and women I admire and respect. It’s incredibly empowering, to be a part of an ensemble of women who are really into Shakespeare.” said Tsebiyah, on the same subject.

The all female theater troupe’s performances of Othello, which extended over two weekends, concluded Saturday evening at 7:30 in Slonim Living Room. The production is the end of an era for seniors Tsebiyah Derry, Montana Lampert Hoover, Simone Recasner, Lila Mensing, and Minou Pourshariati, and was worth watching purely on the basis of artistic merit. Between the obvious dedication on the part of the actors, the balance of creative professionalism and womanly camaraderie, Women’s Naked Shakespeare’s Spring production of Othello successfully realizes one of the Bard’s most complex plays.

 

Photo courtesy of Kat Williams, Class of 2014

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