Review: Red Velvet (Raven Theatre)

| October 26, 2016

Brandon Greenhouse and Tuckie White star in Red Velvet, Raven Theatre           

Red Velvet

Written by Lolita Chakrabarti
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
thru Nov 27  |  tix: $41-$46  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Strong cast tell fascinating story with strong parallels to today


Scott Olson, Tim Martin, Tuckie White, Anna Dauzvardis, Sophia Menendian, Tyler Rich and Brandon Greenhouse

Raven Theatre presents
Red Velvet

Review by Duane Barnes

In Playwright Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet, we are taken back in time to London in 1833. That historic city, and indeed, Great Britain, are roiling in change economic, political and social. The Industrial Revolution, the broadening of voting rights to other than the landed gentry, and the abolition of slavery (most of it, anyway) has the population in turmoil. And Covent Garden, London’s premiere presenter of classical theatre, is about to add to the drama (pun intended). The great actor of his time, Edmund Kean, has taken suddenly ill while playing the role of Othello, and a replacement is urgently required. Selected to fill the void is a fine actor in his own right, Ira Brandon Greenhouse and Anna Dauzvardis star in Red Velvet, Raven TheatreAldridge, an American – no wait, an African-American – is brought in to play the lead role of the Moor. And, as expected, the royalty of the British theatre are affronted. Imagine! With a black man to play the Moor (what irony) within the walls of this esteemed theatre, a revolt occurs and sides are chosen. And as the play progresses, we are constantly propelled into parallel situations and events occurring in this 21st century, and the thought comes to the fore that “the more we change, the more we stay the same”.

The cast is strong, led by Brandon Greenhouse (of Scottsoboro fame) as Ira Aldridge, who demonstrates the emotions that engulf him from young, successful actor to the culmination of his life. At times fierce, angry, conciliatory, unaware; he maintains a masterly hold on his role and the audience as well. And there are also times when he demonstrates an innocence as related to his race within a white majority population who cannot believe the actions of others: the words written in newspapers or directed at him verbally. It’s a big role to carry and Greenhouse does it with great facility. His final scene, as King Lear, speaks volumes.

The actors surrounding Greenhouse fill their roles with gusto, humor, finesse and caring. Matthew Klingler, as Pierre LaPorte, the manager of Covent Garden, at first appears as a soft spoken but firm Frenchman who is making a momentous decision yet appearing to make it an obvious one. But, as the play progresses, he becomes the power broker and the counter force to Ira Aldridge’s insistence on how he is to play his role as Othello. And ultimately, La Porte must make the agonizing decision on Aldridge’s career. Klingler’s portrayal of a man with a desire to do the right thing yet daunted by the man he wishes to support is powerful.

Tim Martin, Tuckie White and Brandon Greenhouse in Red Velvet, Raven Theatre Brandon Greenhouse and Sophia Menendian star in Red Velvet, Raven TheatreTuckie White, Tim Martin, Anna Dauzvardis, Sophia Menendian and Matthew Klinger Brandon Greenhouse and Tuckie White star in Red Velvet, Raven TheatreMatthew Klingler and Brandon Greenhouse star in Red Velvet, Raven Theatre

Tyler Rich (as Charles Kean, the son of the esteemed actor, Edmund Kean) is properly distressed and angry, just as a very proper Englishman should be, when he finds La Porte’s choice to replace his ailing father with (heavens!) a Black man. His moustache fairly curls with his heated indignation as he rails at the indignities about to be laid upon the play, the cast, Covent Garden and the whole of the British Empire as well. Horrors! He succeeds to the nth degree in making the audience abhor him.

Tuckie White as Ellen Tree, who is to play the role of Desdemona opposite Aldridge, is at first stunned by the event taking place. But as the play progresses, she wonderfully shows the conflicting thoughts coursing through her mind as she slowly becomes a willing advocate for La Porte’s decision to bring Aldridge on to play the title role.

The supporting cast members do a very capable job of keeping the focus on the ongoing tension. Scott Olson, as Terrence, is equally horrified at the first news of Aldridge’s hiring but underplays his ire and separates himself from the level of anger being shown by the younger Kean – a nice contrast. Tim Martin’s Henry Forester adds a balanced level of humor to the situation with coy but subdued grins and eye rolls. He denotes a coming of liberalism to the theater as if asking ‘why not a Black man playing a man of color?’ Nicely done. Sophia Menendian as Margaret Aldridge (as well as two other smaller female roles), a very solicitous wife to a very difficult man, is very convincing in her patience with a trying marriage.

In the background, noting all that’s transpiring, is Connie (Anna Dauzvardis), the Jamaican serving girl, who’s privy to the slurs and anger that’s directed at the black interloper and aware that she, too, is being demeaned, albeit indirectly. And it is she who speaks truth to Ira about all that is going on around them and who voices those things that we still deal with to this day. Dauzvardis accomplishes this with force and intensity while never raising her voice.

Director Michael Menendian moves this historical drama in a way that keeps the audience transfixed, never losing focus on that which divided people then as it does now. The costumes, by Joelle Beranek, are equally perfect for 19th century London as well as those worn by Ira as he tours the English countryside. The sets, 3-in-1 really, aptly designed by Ray Toler, make excellent use of the broad stage at the Raven. Lighting by Diane D.Fairchild helps set the atmosphere scene by scene, shifting as the action requires.

Rating: ★★★

Red Velvet continues through November 27th at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $41-$46, and are available by phone (773-338-2177) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)

Scott Olson, Tim Martin, Brandon Greenhouse, Sophia Menendian, Anna Dauzvardis, Matthew Klingler and Tyler Rich

Photos by Dean La Prairie 




Brandon Greenhouse (Ira Aldridge), Tuckie White (Ellen Tree), Matt Klingler (Pierre), Tyler Rich (Charles Kean), Anna Dauzvardis (Connie), Tim Martin (Casimir, Henry), Sophia Menendian (Halina, Betty, Margaret). Scott Olson (Terrence, Bernard), Charles Askenaizer, Brandon Boler, Annie Hogan, Jeremy Pfaff, Katrinka Smith (understudies).

behind the scenes

Michael Menendian (director), Ray Toler (scenic design), Diane D. Fairchild (lighting design), Mary O’Dowd (properties design, set dressing), Joelle Beranek (costume design), Eric Backus (sound design), Kiley Morgan (stage manager), Kelly Hovsepian (asst. stage manager), Destiney Higgins (assistant director), Conor Clark (technical director), Kendra Thulin (dialect coach), Eileen Rozycki (scenic artist), Jessica Doyle (master electrician), Dean La Prairie (photos)

Tim Martin, Sophia Menendian, Anna Dauzvardis and Scott Olson in Red Velvet, Raven Theatre


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Duane Barnes, Raven Theatre

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