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  Red Velvet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Red Velvet

Chicago Shakespeare Theater
800 East Grand Avenue Chicago

The director of last fall's "must-see" King Charles III helms a fascinating glimpse into theater history, called "fiery and funny" by Time Out New York. In 1833 at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden, Edmund Kean, the greatest actor of his age, collapses on stage while performing the lead in Othello. He is replaced by a young, black actor, Ira Aldridge -- a first for the role on London's West End. As a bill in Parliament promoting the abolition of slavery sends shock waves through the streets, how will London react to his performance? This multi-award-winning play garnered Lolita Chakrabarti the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising New Playwright. See Red Velvet at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Thru - Jan 21, 2018

Price: $48-$88

Show Type: Drama

Box Office: 312-595-5600

Running Time: 2hrs, 15mins; one intermission

Chicago Shakespeare Theater Seating Chart

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  Red Velvet Reviews
  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

Chicago Tribune - Somewhat Recommended

"...Something is held back in Griffin's production: It's not easy to diagnose what, precisely, except to note that Aldridge and his oft-overlooked personal revolution is the reason to see this production and you never quite feel here that you are watching one of the greatest Shakespearean actors who ever lived, working at the peak of his powers. That's no knock on Johnstone's performance, which is both accomplished and moving, but a consequence of a play focused more on Aldridge's trials and enemies than his towering, world-changing successes and a production that feels nervous and inwardly cautious at its core. These are sensitive issues, most certainly, but Aldridge never was scared of anything or anybody."
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Chris Jones

Chicago Sun Times - Recommended

"...It is easy to see why Chakrabarti was intrigued by Aldridge's story, given the impassioned controversy now swirling around matters of racially and ethnically authentic casting (and many other issues). Her play often seems to be addressing those issues with more of a 21st century sensibility than a 19th century one, but the correspondences are obvious, and audiences can easily parse the differences. Meanwhile, she makes the case that Aldridge not only broke the color line in British theater (while suffering the most painful consequences), but also championed a style of acting that seemed to anticipate Stanislavsky and The Method."
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Hedy Weiss

Windy City Times - Highly Recommended

"...Lolita Chakrabarti's historical drama takes us back to an age before any of these familiar practices we take for granted—specifically, London's fashionable Theatre Royale in 1833. This was when enormous playhouses forced actors to maintain full-front poses in order to achieve audibility, when a troupe's leading players/shareholders determined a show's appearance, and the prospect of a—gasp!—Yankee replacing Edmund Kean in a Shakespeare play was nearly as shocking as the novelty of the usurper's race matching that of the Moorish protagonist he was to depict."
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Mary Shen Barnidge

Time Out Chicago - Recommended

"...Aldridge’s casting is met with horror and suspicion by Keane’s son, Charles (Michael Hayden), but a number of the other actors, including his leading lady—and Charles’s fiancee—Ellen Tree (Chaon Cross) are less trepidatious. Aldridge’s method is brash and his acting style is more modern. He brings an intensity to the role that Ellen, for one, finds thrilling, even if some misjudged blocking between them leaves her with some light bruises."
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Alex Huntsberger

Chicago On the Aisle - Highly Recommended

"...Now comes the company's riveting presentation of British playwright and actress Lolita Chakrabarti's "Red Velvet" - a high-spirited gloss on the Othello story that's based on a little-known but true incident from 1833: Free-born American black actor Ira Aldridge provoked the London establishment by toppling its custom of white actors doing the role of Othello in blackface. It would be well-nigh a century before London would see another black actor, Paul Robeson, replicate that feat."
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Nancy Malitz

Stage and Cinema - Recommended

"...In Lolita Chakrabarti's dramatic remembrance Red Velvet (the title referring to stage curtains that conceal and reveal) that flawed pioneer is Ira Aldridge. Though fairly (or unfairly) forgotten, he was theater's Jackie Robinson. His story - a quest for artistic freedom that took him from New York to London to death at 60 in Lodz, Poland - is seen from all sides. First produced in Chicago by Raven Theatre last year, it's now in a kinetic arena staging by Gary Griffin at Chicago Shakespeare's Courtyard Theater."
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Lawrence Bommer

Around The Town Chicago - Highly Recommended

"...Needless to say, this latest production , now on the stage at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, under to direction of Gary Griffin is even more stunning that the earlier production. One of the things that Griffin has added ( besides a great budget, of course) is that he has redone the theater as an in-the-round stage area with a curtain above that covers the stage area in its entirety between scenes."
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Alan Bresloff

NewCity Chicago - Somewhat Recommended

"...In the end, Aldridge fades from view, blotted out by an intrusive framing story featuring a young and whiny Polish reporter (Annie Purcell, who also plays Aldridge’s first wife) seeking an interview with the aging actor. It feels as though author Chakrabarti—who is to be commended for retrieving Aldridge from the memory hole—never makes up her own mind about her protagonist. And no amount of stage magic can cover up that problem in any play."
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Hugh Iglarsh

Chicago Theatre Review - Recommended

"...Lolita Chakrabarti’s engaging biographical play sheds light on a little-known, racially motivated incident in theatrical history. The playwright creates the moment when change was in the air, and a renowned African American actor tried to break into the world of white, professional theatre. She also allows audiences a peek at understanding what’s involved when a noted actor falls ill and has to quickly be replaced. We also observe, firsthand, how bizarre the archaic and declarative 19th century style of acting was before a more realistic approach was later employed. We witness one actor’s attempt to instruct and change several things, from performance style to the acceptance of African-Americans as thoughtful, caring human beings with intelligence and feelings. In this, Gary Griffin’s production truly excels."
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Colin Douglas

Chicagoland Theater Reviews - Somewhat Recommended

"...Now the CST is presenting "Red Velvet," with the noted Canadian actor Dion Johnstone in the Aldridge role. It's obvious by the end of the evening how important Lester was to the success of the play. Johnstone is a fine actor, but in spite of a solid supporting cast and resourceful directing by Gary Griffin', "Red Velvet" is just a middling playgoing experience."
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Dan Zeff

The Fourth Walsh - Recommended

"...Although I really enjoyed RED VELVET for its rich behind-the-scenes-history-lesson about Ira Aldridge, some of Chakraberti’s storytelling is too storytelling. At various points, Chakrabarti chooses to describe or elude to conversations that happen in the past or offstage. She tells us bits of the stories instead of showing us, like when Aldridge describes events to a reporter instead of us experiencing them. Or when Pierre asks Ellen and Charles to join him in his office -offstage- to discuss the future of the theatre company. Or Pierre telling Aldridge about the board meeting. These life evolving teasers could have been scenes of real engagement but they become talking points in the dialogue. Still, RED VELVET was a powerful look behind the curtain at the life of an actor."
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Katy Walsh

Third Coast Review - Recommended

"...Red Velvet is performed in two hour-long acts, notable for the charismatic performances by Johnstone and Cross. The first act is brilliant and animated, but despite Griffin’s skillful direction, the pace of the second act slows and loses energy."
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Nancy Bishop

  Red Velvet Photo Gallery

   This show has been Jeff Recommended*

*The designation of "Jeff Recommended" is given to a production when at least ONE ELEMENT of the show was deemed outstanding by the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee.

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