Review: Babes With Blades Stages Masterful All-Female Othello

Sarah Liz Bell as Desdemona and Brianna Buckley as Othello. Photo by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux. Babes With Blades Theatre Company is performing Shakespeare’s Othello with a talented all-female cast at the Factory Theater. The cast is all female, trans, and gender-nonconforming. This otherwise-traditional production demonstrates that with excellent direction, acting and sword-fighting, there’s no need for male actors. (Take that, Elizabethan play-makers.) Directed by Mignon McPherson Stewart, the cast is headed by Brianna Buckley as Othello. She is a tall and fearsome general with a fine voice and a distinctly sensitive side, as she shows in her scenes with Desdemona (Sarah Liz Bell), her fiancée, then wife. Kathrynne Wolf’s Iago, who narrates and speaks directly to us from time to time, is successfully the two-faced deferential lieutenant to Othello and the devious plotter against him. Ashley Fox as Iago’s wife and Desdemona’s handmaiden, looks truly sickened when she learns that the iconic handkerchief that she obtained for Iago was intended for such an evil purpose. Ultimately, Iago is the leading character in this plot, as he manipulates everyone to his own ends. Subplots involve Iago’s hostility toward the loyal Cassio (Meredith Ernst), who was promoted over Iago as Othello’s captain, and the love of Roderigo (Rachel Mock), a wealthy gentleman, for Desdemona. He had asked Desdemona’s father, Brabantio (Michelle McKenzie-Voigt) for his daughter’s hand, before her relationship with Othello was known. Encouraged by Iago, Brabantio at first accuses Othello of seducing his daughter. When Desdemona expresses her love for the general, Brabantio relents, but says to Othello, “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see. She has deceived her father, and may thee." Other memorable Shakespearean lines dramatize this plot of cunning and jealousy. Othello describes himself as “one that loved not wisely, but too well.” And Iago warns him, “O beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on,” even as he feeds that jealousy. Thanks to Stewart’s thoughtful direction and the costuming by Carlie Casas, we can enjoy the language and compelling plot of cunning and jealousy of one of Shakespeare’s best-known plays. Casas’ costuming, in a color palette predominantly black, gray and burgundy, looks authentic and realistically constructed, even as we sit very close to the stage in the Factory Theater’s small house. Her design and construction of Desdemona’s dress and undergarments look particularly beautiful and finely made. Scenic design, focused on a cleverly curtained raised stage within the main stage, is by Erin Gautille. Lighting is by Sarah Riffle and sound design by Leigh Barrett, with an original song by Declan Ryan. Samantha Kaufman is fight director. I did regret that this production didn’t require more sword-fighting. BWB’s actors excel at this elegant sport and it’s a pleasure to watch their choreographed battles. Othello by Babes With Blades Theatre Company continues through May 25 at the Factory Theater, 1623 W. Howard St. Running time is 2.5 hours, including one intermission. Tickets are $28, with student and senior tickets $15 and a limited number of $10 industry tickets available for each performance. The show runs Thursday-Sunday.
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Nancy S Bishop

Nancy S. Bishop is publisher and Stages editor of Third Coast Review. She’s a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and a 2014 Fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. You can read her personal writing on pop culture at, and follow her on Twitter @nsbishop. She also writes about film, books, art, architecture and design.