In 2001, while on her honeymoon in Great Britain, Stephanie Roosa saw a production of Othello at the historic Globe Theatre. She never dreamed that 10 years later she'd be staging the Shakespeare tragedy here.
But in February, Roosa, 32, was chosen from a pool of candidates to direct the 15th annual Shakespeare at the Bowl production. The show, which opens tonight, is being put on by the Shakespeare Players, a program of Rochester Community Players.
"I jumped at the chance to direct for RCP," says the Irondequoit resident. "I love the love story in Othello."
Roosa has a theater degree from Knox College in Illinois and is the founder of local theater company Out-of-Pocket Productions. But this is her first time working with RCP and directing Shakespeare — outdoors, no less, in Highland Bowl. Her goal is to simplify the blocking (the positioning and movement of actors) so the audience can concentrate on the language and plot.
Written in 1603, Othello follows Othello, a black general in Venice, and his young, Caucasian wife, Desdemona. At the beginning of the play, they have just eloped and are deeply in love. But Othello's evil comrade Iago tricks Othello into thinking that his wife is having an affair, so the general begins to plot her demise.
"This show tells how things can slip away, how one man's words can be twisted," Roosa says. "Everything falls apart in a day and a half." Because the content is layered and the language dated, the cast and crew spent the first two weeks analyzing the script and characters and thinking about how a modern audience might relate.
"Nowadays, the attitude toward interracial relationships still reflects past decades, even though many people don't like to admit that," says Roosa.
Jonathan Ntheketha, 33, of Rochester plays Othello. He has appeared in many different plays and sees this show as timeless. "It can be uplifting, yet depressing that folks are still dealing with this stuff," he says. "Othello's angst, interracial relationships — people can relate."
Samantha Mehnert of Rochester, who beat out many other young hopefuls to play Desdemona, agrees. "The themes in Shakespeare's works were so ahead of [their] time," says the 18-year-old, a graduate of the Harley School.
With the eight-week rehearsal process at an end, Ntheketha and Mehnert are gearing up for two weeks of free performances at the Bowl, which will offer at least one surprise. "You'll have to wait and see the play, but Desdemona's death scene is stunning," Mehnert says. "There's a little extra something thrown in that I have never seen before — a cringe-worthy moment."
Adds Ntheketha: "There will always be a nugget or gem to find. This is why we can keep doing Shakespeare all over the globe and it's always fresh."