Desdemona–a play about a handkerchief, TriArts, Incorporated, at the Performance Loft. A play is not only a script but a rendering of the text in performance, a principle illustrated in the TriArts company’s sensitive staging of Paula Vogel’s exposé of Shakespeare’s Othello. She envisions Desdemona as a spoiled society matron who gets her thrills moonlighting at happy hooker Bianca’s brothel, to the horror of the faithful Emilia, an envious prude shackled to an abusive husband.

Trash-talking females are a staple of modern entertainment, but TriArts transforms Vogel’s mean-spirited diatribe into a haunting, exquisite portrait of frustrated women perhaps misguided but certainly undeserving of their tragic fate. Chief credit for this formidable accomplishment goes to the production’s trio of intelligent, talented actresses–Rebecca Spence, Cassandra Bissell, and Jennifer Gehr–all of whom convey a poignant sympathy for their flawed characters that in turn sparks our compassion for them.

Director Keith Thackston has apparently instructed his cast to slow their delivery, rendering every word intelligible despite the accents necessary to delineate class. This verbal clarity, enlarged by musical and visual motifs (including a precurtain dumb show and a clever Caravaggio tableau), reveals an unexpected humor and wisdom in the text’s seemingly frivolous utterances and allows us the leisure to contemplate these wider dimensions.

–Mary Shen Barnidge