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BWW Review: BECOMING OTHELLO: A BLACK GIRLS JOURNEY at Shakespeare & Company

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One can be a powerful number.

BWW Review: BECOMING OTHELLO: A BLACK GIRLS JOURNEY at Shakespeare & Company
Photos by Christina Lane

Thinking about a "solo show" performed by and about the life experiences of a single performer, may cause some to recall the late 1960s popular music tune that begins: "One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do" and / or the lyrics and message in many Broadway shows since. With BECOMING OTHELLO: A Black Girl's Journey, Debra Ann Byrd submits that no one is alone and that with strength of belief and faith comes power with which you'll never walk alone.

In a recent BWW Interview with Byrd (here) the actor / playwright, provides an ideal outline and overview of her solo show. While in the interview she did not give too much away, the performance directed by Shakespeare & Company founder, Tina Packer proved to be layered, rich, textured, effective, and very well received.

BWW Review: BECOMING OTHELLO: A BLACK GIRLS JOURNEY at Shakespeare & Company Described as a living memoir, BECOMING OTHELLO: A Black Girl's Journey is a multimedia theatrical production with lyrical language, soulful songs and the music that shaped the life of a resilient little girl growing up in Spanish Harlem. This one-woman theatrical drama chronicles the life of classical actress, Debra Ann Byrd. The show flows from Debra Ann's recounting of her ancestral lineage to her arrival at a crossroad in life. She takes us through her joy-filled and tumultuous youth; a fateful encounter with a company of Shakespearean actors and her remarkable, gender-flipped journey on the road to becoming Othello. We share in Debra Ann's struggle with self-esteem and how, against all odds, she manages to make it through foster care, teenage pregnancy, and single parenting, to become the person she always dreamed she could be. It is a deeply personal, poignant, and powerful story of perseverance, tragedy, triumph and ultimately, unconditional love.

Byrd provides a tasty smorgasbord comprised of the many layers contributing to the woman as well as her depth, dynamism, energy, and intensity. The performance is primarily, as stated, a recounting of Byrd's life and experiences. Like the woman, herself, the piece is an amalgamation of myriad events, issues, topics, some of which can be challenging and unpleasant. Skillfully bringing audience members with her to the edge of emotional peaks, never going over. She does so with a well-woven tapestry presented through a combination of conversation, scripted dialogue, and oration of classic Shakespearean monologue elements. The show is well developed, yet as an aptly described "living memoir" is still a work in progress that will likely result in tightening of the weave as the piece evolves.

BWW Review: BECOMING OTHELLO: A BLACK GIRLS JOURNEY at Shakespeare & Company BECOMING OTHELLO: A Black Girl's journey is colorful, dynamic, enlightening, entertaining, informative, layered, rich, textured, and more. Byrd rarely pauses in the roughly 100-minute presentation of her journey that begins with the capture of ancestral relations then progresses through and includes the multi-faceted present-day realities along with many of the more significant twists and turns along the pathway. The content and presentation, compliment each other well and hold the audience securely engaged from end-to-end. This is a case where the sum of the parts including actor, director, movement, props, scenery, scripting, sound, and timing work together and achieve a sum that is, indeed, greater than those parts. Although, there are moments of personal discover, such as the statement "I thought I was doing gender... it turns out, I was becoming Othello", where the content overall, challenges us to think and act more globally. Byrd shares that "if anyone had asked little Debby what she wanted to be, it would not have been Othello" and goes on to eventually encourage that we switch from the perspective of "I" to "we" united together.

BWW Review: BECOMING OTHELLO: A BLACK GIRLS JOURNEY at Shakespeare & Company

Placing this unique theatrical experience neatly into a conventional box of any size would prove a daunting challenge. Whether you have an interest in an actor's process, the Bard specifically, art imitating life and vice-versa, or simply a dynamic and powerful example of some hot topics such as doctrine, gender, individuality, privilege, sexuality, and societal norms; BECOMING OTHELLO: A Black Girl's Journey is sure to check multiple boxes.

It should be noted that due to weather, the performance had to be moved from Shakespeare & Company's Roman Garden Theatre indoors to the Tina Packer Playhouse. Tickets and more information can be found at www.shakespeare.org Given recent weather patterns as well as the show's scheduled performances at New York City's Lincoln Center, do so quickly while the show continues to play through July 25 at Shakespeare& Company's beautiful campus in Lenox, Massachusetts. A video trailer of BECOMING OTHELLO: A Black Girl's Journey can be viewed at: https://vimeo.com/554806765


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