STC’s ‘Red Velvet’ Imagines the Life — and Strife — of America’s First Renowned Black Actor

Amari Cheatom, Michael Glenn and Samuel Adams. Image credit: Teresa Castracane Photography

If you merged the feelings of an oppressed minority today and projected them onto one of the most talented and renowned Shakespearian actors of the early 1800s, you might predict the experience of the fictional ‘biopic’ of Ira Aldridge in ‘Red Velvet,’ now on stage at Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Michael R. Klein Theatre at the Lansburgh through July 17th.

Award-winning actress and playwright Lolita Chakrabarti (Life of Pi), masterfully explores how the life and career of one of the most renowned early 19th century Shakespearean actors — and the first Black actor to play Othello on the London stage on 1833 — Ira Aldridge (played by Amari Cheatom) may have lived and died.

Amari Cheatom and Emily DeForest. Image credit: Teresa Castracane Photography

A complex mix of history and fiction comes to life via Aldridge’s undoubted struggles with social injustice that come full circle as a female interviewer tries to make her name and advance a journalistic career through the telling of his story.

You-Shin Chen’s set design takes center stage, transporting audiences in a surprise flashback from Aldridge’s dressing room in 1867 to London’s Royal Theatre in 1833 and all that may have transpired there.

Though it was a different time — perhaps a harder time — there is no doubt that friendships, alliances, passions, and ambitions were just strong and essential to progress as they are today.

Amari Cheatom and Shannon Dorsey. Image credit: Teresa Castracane Photography

“[Red Velvet] is also a reminder,” says director Jade King Carroll. “It’s a call to arms about moving forward, about the importance of storytelling and who gets to tell the story.”

Red Velvet runs 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission, through July 17, 2022. While dates and artists remain subject to change, tickets are available here

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