Photo by Jim Cox
Albert Jones (left) and Sean Dugan in Red Velvet
Playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet illuminates Ira Aldridge, an underappreciated—and to many outside of theater circles, unknown—African-American actor in the early 1800s. Aldridge struggled not only for acceptance in a theatrical world that didn’t yet have racism out of its system, but to bring a visceral interpretation to his and his fellow actors’ performances. In Red Velvet, now at the Old Globe Theatre under the direction of Stafford Arima, the play within the play is Othello and the year is 1833. Aldridge, replacing the ailing Edmund Kean, became the first black actor to portray the Moor in a London theater licensed for “legitimate drama.” Racist outrage, which included that of some theater critics, ended Aldridge’s Covent Garden engagement scarcely after it began.
At the Globe, Albert Jones is an imposing presence as Aldridge, deftly conveying the man’s profoundly felt convictions about the theater and his place in it, while also showing us the reverse, unsettling side of a man possessed of such intense emotion. This dichotomy characterizes the arc of the play, much of it dialectical, including the Othello rehearsals and performance scenes between Aldridge and his Desdemona, Ellen Tree (Allison Mack).
Red Velvet unfolds slowly and at times wavers in tone. It opens with a methodically paced encounter between a grim, aging Aldridge and a sincere but irritating Polish reporter (Amelia Pedlow). The pace picks up when the narrative flashback begins, starting with a behind-the-scenes debate about company manager Pierre Laporte’s (Sean Dugan) choice of Aldridge to substitute for Kean. Here, the sputtering protestations of Othello cast member (and Kean’s son) Charles (John Lavelle) feel like distracting tantrums. The intensity ramps up, however, as Aldridge prepares for his debut and the furor that follows precipitates a defining confrontation between Aldridge and Laporte. The latter is memorably played by Jones and Dugan in a scene that is both tense and physical. Where Aldridge goes from there is revealed by play’s end, and it is devastating.
Red Velvet runs through April 30 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. $29 and up. oldglobe.org
The Man Who Came to Dinner: The classic Kaufmann and Hart comedy about an arrogant radio personality who gets stuck in a small town following an injury. Presented by Premier Productions, it opens April 7 at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. broadwayvista.biz
Skeleton Crew: An autoworker finds herself torn between doing what’s best for her family and her fellow employees in this new play that takes place in Detroit during the Great Recession. Written by Dominique Morisseau, it opens April 8 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
To Be Dali: A staged reading of a new play about the life of the famous Spanish surrealist Salvador Dalí. Written by Eric Yost and Salvador Benavides, it happens April 10 at the Lyceum Space Theatre in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org
Travels With My Aunt: Four actors play 20 different roles in this offbeat comedy about an eccentric aunt who changes the life of her stuffy nephew. Written by Graham Greene, it opens April 12 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Finding Neverland: The Broadway musical about real-life playwright J.M. Barrie, whose relationship with a widowed mother and her children inspire him to write Peter Pan. Presented by Broadway San Diego, it runs through April 9 at the San Diego Civic Theatre in the Gaslamp. broadwaysd.com
Shadowlands: William Nicholson’s drama tells the true story of a late-in-life romance between C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Davidman. Directed by Kerry Meads, it runs through April 9 at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org
The Dresser: A WWII-era theatre dresser attempts to prepare a veteran stage actor for a King Lear performance. Written by Ronald Harwood and based on his own experiences, the play runs through April 16 at the Lamplighters Community Theatre in La Mesa. lamplighterslamesa.com
Awake & Sing!: Clifford Odets’ Tony Award-winning drama about a third-generation Jewish family who all share an apartment in the Bronx during the Great Depression. Directed by Kristianne Kurner, it runs through April 16 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
The 39 Steps: A comedic adaptation of the classic Alfred Hitchcock thriller about a man with a photographic memory who gets caught up in a murder mystery. Directed by Desha Crownover, it runs through April 23 at the Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
Into the Beautiful North: The world premiere of Karen Zacarías’ new play about a young Mexican who travels to the U.S. in hopes of finding men who will help him fight the banditos taking over his town. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it runs through April 23 at the Lyceum Stage in the Gaslamp. sdrep.org
Over the Tavern: A spry 12-year-old decides he wants to practice a more “fun” religion much to the chagrin of his Roman Catholic family and a strict nun. Directed by Annette Alliano, it runs through April 23 at PowPAC Community Theatre in Poway. powpac.org
The Geeze and Me: The world premiere musical centers on the pitfalls of aging. Presented by Rag Lady Productions, it runs through April 29 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center in Downtown. thegeezeandme.com
Flemming (An American Thriller): In Sam Bobrick’s dark comedy, a broker sells his firm to become a detective only to find his first case hits a little too close to home. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it runs through April 30 at the Legler Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Red Velvet: When an acclaimed British actor can’t play Othello, a Black American steps in to play the title character in early 1800’s London. Written by Lolita Chakrabarti, it runs through April 30 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
On the 20th Century: A comedic musical about a down-on-his-luck theatre producer who is trying to convince his actress ex to play the main part is a nonexistent drama. Directed by Sean Murray, it runs through April 30 at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. cygnettheatre.com
First Date: A musical comedy about a blind date where the two main characters’ inner issues are manifested into the patrons at the restaurant. Presented by San Diego Musical Theatre, it opens May 7 at the Horton Grand Theatre in the Gaslamp. sdmt.org