There are many superb reasons to attend “General Desdemona,” one of three original plays being offered by Proctors’ New Plays Festival. The best reason is a soaring text by Egan Reich. His writing is muscular enough to enthrall, even if you aren’t always able to juggle the metaphors or connect the themes — and there are many. Pick a theme or metaphor — any theme or metaphor. They’re all there. There is racial divide, class distinction, the blazing battle of the sexes. What more could you wish for?
The story is a history lesson. An American “Army of Observation” has moved into Corpus Christi Camp in Texas. It is 1846. A pre-emptive war with Mexico is pending. To alleviate the boredom of waiting for the U.S. government to decide whether or not to attack, Capt. John Magruder (Ian Sullivan) builds a theater where he plans a production of Shakespeare’s “Othello.” Lt. James “Pete” Longstreet (David Matranga) and Lt. Ulysses “Sam” Grant (Trevor Vaughn) are vying for the part of Desdemona. The two young men, long-time friends, find that their competition for the role invades and besets other aspects of their lives and reveals differences in their views on war, nationalism and objective.
Othello is being played by Lt. Theodoric Porter (Ben Scurria), and a beautiful camp follower, Savannah Debourge (Yvonne Perry), plays Emilia. Gen. William Worth (Brian Massman), leader of the camp, rhapsodizes over the poetry of Shakespeare while the sinister spirit of Gen. Santa Anna (David Tass Rodriguez), deposed Mexican dictator, weaves its way in and out of the soldiers’ lives. Santa Anna is part narrator and chorus. The program tells us the play is based on historical events, but true or not, these actors give superlative voice to a time in U.S. history that has been generally neglected by the American theater.
For his part, seasoned director Kevin McGuire adds his own deep understanding of the theater and shepherds the actors with a sure and knowing hand. But it is Reich’s powerful script that captures the starring role.
The playwright offers each actor her or his moments of clarity — and they run with them. Vaughn and Matranga are given words that assert their political dissonance and their destinies in the American Civil War. We learn that Grant is a timid soldier and Longstreet a craven slob.
Massman brilliantly evokes the spirit of the “real” Desdemona, the innocent yet dynamic energy that brought down a general. Rodriguez is simply riveting as the wild-eyed, one-legged dictator, and Scurria creates a soldier who is cast from his noble purpose by love.
Perry is the soul of the army, its conscience and its forbearance. And Sullivan is steely in his determination to prevail on both the artistic and the military front.
Lighting design by the Capital Region BOCES Theatre Arts Tech class creates gorgeous moods and serves the show beautifully. Judie Bouchard’s stage management keeps the show running seamlessly.
WHERE: 440 Upstairs at Proctors,
440 State St., Schenectady
WHEN: Through April 26
HOW MUCH: $26
MORE INFO: 382-3884